The beauty of car parks

Salford - New Bailey car park Image copyright Phil Burrowes

Car parks don't usually feature high on the list of photographic assignments, yet, following a chance meeting at Henley Royal Regatta, photographer Phil Burrowes found himself commissioned by NCP (National Car Parks) to produce images of 20 of their car parks across the country.

Burrowes spent three weeks of long days photographing these often overlooked pieces of architecture.

"I wanted to capture the scale of the car parks, to evoke a sense of awe," he says.

"With such a scope of detail to record, incredible shapes and patterns, basically a photographer's dream, I needed to give a nod to the architects, the thought that has gone into the amazing design of these buildings allowing me to show the shape and form of them, but coupled with the lighting design too."

Image copyright Phil Burrowes
Image caption "In Stockport I'd waited for the 7pm train, expecting commuters to funnel from the car park, allowing me to capture light trails as they returned home. The lighting on each floor is automatic. I had to set up the tripod, then run up to the top level and all the way down to activate the lights in order to capture this 90-second exposure with it fully illuminated."

Each day Burrowes would arrive on site before sunrise and continue working through the day, past dusk, to show each car park in the best light he could, often waiting until night-time.

"I would get many a funny look from passers-by wondering what on earth this guy with a camera was doing photographing a car park in the middle of a rainy and cold Manchester.

Image copyright Phil Burrowes
Image caption "This part of Greater Manchester is rich in its history of progress. I loved this composition of the old beside the new - the few wisps of nature finding a foothold within the cracks of the railway arch."

"But it was reassuring to see that many of these people would look up to what I was photographing - literally stopping in their tracks to appreciate a building they had taken for granted, taking a second look at something they may have never appreciated may contain beauty.

"The final image sums up perfectly what we were trying to do with the project. Salford New Bailey car park is brand new - it opened the week I photographed it.

Image copyright Phil Burrowes
Image caption The brand new Salford New Bailey car park

"It was a miserable day and heavy showers had soaked me to the bone but this was my last chance to photograph it. I had been out in the cold and the wet all day and I was desperate to get to my hotel and rest, but come 8pm it was still raining.

"I was sheltering under a railway bridge and the warm lights and massive car park looked like a welcoming beacon to me, a wet, cold and tired traveller, keen to return to my car.

"My perception of car parks had been changed. It wasn't a municipal, utilitarian behemoth, it was an open, dry, well-lit and welcoming sight, a place I longed to enter. It was paradise."

Image copyright Phil Burrowes
Image caption "This is the amazing exit ramp at Arndale Centre NCP car park. It should be in a tourist guide as it is incredible to drive down. There are huge vertical shapes, abstract textures and forms, plenty for an artist to capture."
Image copyright Phil Burrowes
Image caption "Brand new, shiny colourful paint on a wet night, capturing light trails and starbursts from the halogen lighting. It was a major part of the project to change perceptions and to show how safe and well-illuminated car parks like this one in Bolton are."
Image copyright Phil Burrowes
Image caption "I took this from the roof of The Print Works car park, opposite the Arndale Centre in Manchester. I captured a two-minute exposure of rush hour trams, buses and cars together with Christmas shoppers, buzzing round like ants. But it showed the lives involved in this iconic Manchester building."
Image copyright Phil Burrowes
Image caption "I love seeing the exposed structures of these epic buildings. The extreme depth of field, combined with the leading shapes and the abstract nature of the composition make the viewer question what they are seeing."
Image copyright Phil Burrowes
Image caption "It rains a lot near Manchester. I had to use the rain, work with it, pull up my hood, knuckle down and get on with the job. But I love the effect it has on photographing buildings. The reflections of light it causes, making everything look fresh and clean."
Image copyright Phil Burrowes
Image caption "I owe much to the staff, patients and visitors to Addenbrooke's Hospital. It was dinner time, the car park was emptying and I was sitting at the foot of the car park observing the beams from headlights traverse the entire building, from roof to ground. It was a beautiful moment, etched on my brain. So it is with thanks to all those there on that cold October night last year that unknowingly contributed to this beautiful photograph."

You can see more work by Phil Burrowes on his website.