Digbeth, Street Art

Immortality and Andover Street

I never thought I’d miss Birmingham or it’s surrounding sprawl but I do.

I don’t miss Friday nights on Broad Street with the attendant astronomical bar bill and the possible need for corrective facial surgery when the sun rises.

I don’t miss the crowds, the grime or the crime.

It’s only now that I’ve put a little distance between myself, the place and the people I knew in the bad old days that I’ve been able to really love going back to Brum.

It’s a good feeling; knowing that sense of place and my own shared history with that place, but this story is not about phoney nostalgia for “shit that went down back in the day.”

This story is about a mini-renaissance taking place with or without urban redevelopment funding in Digbeth.

Immortality and Andover Street

High and never-too-dry as I now am in safe, suburban, Tory-voting middle England, there is but one seedy underpass near to me and even though it stinks of piss, glistens with broken glass and has poor lighting, the graffiti is all state-sanctioned and seems to have been done by local children.

The kids have tried their very best but they haven’t managed anything quite like this:

Or this:

I’m not saying the local kids are lacking in talent, but I know that art like this gives me a gut reaction and makes me glad that I have a camera, while my local subway just makes me feel sad and slightly queasy.

The fact that these examples are not just isolated oases in the warren of backstreets, and derelict buildings is thanks to a number of contributing factors.

Like a lot of places, Digbeth used to make things and it doesn’t make much any more.

Industrial Strength Grafitti

According to wikipedia:

“The area around Digbeth and Deritend was the first centre of industry in Birmingham and became one of the most heavily industrialised areas in the town.”

The exodus of manufacturing industry left the kind of urban dereliction seen in cities like Detroit, with echoes of a post-apocalyptic wasteland not too much of an imaginative leap away.


Far-reaching and ambitious plans were made to include Digbeth in a multimillion pound city-wide facelift, the Big City Plan, which hoped to turn the area into a “creative quarter” but as this blog, dated 2009 explains:

“Initially, The Big City Plan’s focus on Eastside was like manna from heaven to the independent operators in the area, and it looked as if Digbeth would finally receive the public sector support needed to establish the “new creative quarter” that Birmingham City Council’s website promises it to be. Unfortunately, like any long-term relationship, promises got forgotten.”

In 2013 the high water mark left by the redevelopment money is visible only in places. A handful of trendy design agencies find themselves marooned a few blocks from concrete works and the shiny facade of the formerly hideous but not-much-improved Birmingham Coach Station, connected by still empty backstreets, providing miles of crumbly urban canvas.

Two more elements that helped foment this explosion of colour and creativity are custard and shoes.

Not Just Any Old Shoes

The Sneaks and Peaks urban festival has been held 2 years running and is described in the blurb for the video above the big pink shoe thusly:

“The first ever Sneaks & Peaks was held in The Custard Factory, Digbeth, in Birmingham. The event was an opportunity for sneaker fans to get together, buy, sell or trade goods. There was also a street food market, live graffiti, live painting, as well as live free-runners. An array of events with nothing but good music and good people.”

I was lucky enough to catch the preparations for this year and some of the resulting shots are before your very eyes.

Sneaks and Peaks and the Custard factory can’t claim all the credit, while the City Council continues to do such a great job of neglecting streets it has hopes to regenerate. As a relatively new annual event, the festival alone could not be responsible for the layers of paper and spraypaint that adorn the street-furniture everywhere you look.

It’s not just me who noticed, you really can’t miss the fact that EVERY lampost and street sign has been flyposted with extreme prejudice.

It was amidst these stickers for club nights, DJs, aliens and random weirdness that I came across a mysterious trail…

Who is the enigmatic Mssd Cnnctn?
Am I the photographer at the end of the world?
Who is the other me?

What does it all mean?

Why do it?

Why not?

Why post these strange, perhaps coded messages to flickr?

Mssd Cnnctn remains schtum.

In my mind, she is a government agent in communication with an entity not dissimilar to Dr. Who, but she could just be a nutter with too many sticky labels.

Is the admission that

“…this is meaningless”

just a way to cover her tracks?

The fact that so many questions remain unanswered leads me to hope for further installments.

The End?

This story was created using Medium for the very first time. The process of writing, adding pictures and hyperlinks was completely unhindered by the platform.

It’s an impressive bit of kit and a pleasure to work with.

There will be more to come as there are still more images to show and more trips to be made to a landscape which is changing all the time.

Comments and cnnctns are welcome.

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