A PhotoWalk through the Bristol With an olympus om-d e-m1

A photo walk through the centre of Bristol is full of surprises and details that grab your attention and demand that they become the centre of your photo composition

Street Art

From its roots in the boom in graffiti and tagging in the 1980s, much of which was considered to be vandalism, it is now more commonly seen to be usually unsanctioned visual art created in public locations. It has developed into many forms of speciality - stencil graffiti, wheatpasted poster or sticker art, and street installation or even sculpture are common forms of modern street art. With modern computer and projection technology has come video projection onto buildings while almost as a counter technology response, traditional knitting has led to yarn bombing. With its development has come a growing recognition and enjoyment by the general public of Street Art as an often high quality, low cost art comparable to government or community sponsored high cost art installations. But its roots in political and social protest still dog it, some authorities seek to ban it and for some people it will always be equated to wanton vandalism.

Street Art: Love it or Loath it
Some of the street art and street life to be found in the Stokes Croft / St. Paul's area of the city. Constantly changing, most street art should be photographed when seen, not left for a future occasion!

For the general public, while graffiti is linked to vandalism and tagging by disengaged youths, modern Street Art is perhaps exemplified by Banksy. But even so, within the graffiti and Street Art world, Banksy represents a more 'commercial' art world wrapped in the Street Art style movement - it has become a term used to describe a graffiti artist who has "sold out" by becoming financially successful through the system he originally spoke out against. And it is for this reason that some people will try to discover his work and then throw paint over it, while the more commercially minded 'fan' try to quickly remove his work if possible to then try to sell!

Whatever your view, Banksy street art is well worth looking out for as you explore the streets around central Bristol with examples to be found in Stokes Croft, near the University and near the Floating Harbour.

Hang in there, the property developer will never notice!

But the street art scene is much more diverse and interesting than just a Banksy. The quality of the art works and graffiti is often outstanding, colourful and even interesting in its subject matter. Some is very much 'protest' in its theme, some is commemorating events or people, some is decorative and some would definitely have to be explained to me!

With a great local community spirit, localism is a key ingredient to sustaining the Stokes Croft area. But with the redevelopment of the city centre and floating harbour area, developmentals pressures are increasing on outlying areas, with rental increases becoming the estate agents buzzword of the moment and derelict building such as the old Carriageworks being eyed up for redevelopment.

So enjoy exploring and discovering the huge wealth of Street Art to be found in central Bristol while it lasts, as the combination of modern commercial development and property rental increases are starting to spread its web into once rundown parts of the city to the cost and detriment of their local communities.

Think longterm, think of consequences, shop local & be proud of your community
Give a damn!

Back to the future

Development brings prosperity at the cost of community

Walking back into the centre of the city through the wall of modern buildings that contain offices and a hotel. This seems to act as a modern developmental Berlin Wall dividing the low rise Stokes Croft area from the gleaming hustle and bustle of the modern world of St. James Barton district. Beyond the wall we come across the appropriately named Bearpit roundabout, where the car rules at the expense of the pedestrian who is pushed underground - community spirit is not a term that would be applied to this area!

The Bearpit

The Bearpit was the scene of an important historic street fair, with many ancient routes converging on this area from outlying areas to then enter the historic heart of Bristol. Now though, the only visible record of this is in some of the local street names, such as Haymarket and Horsefair.

Christmas Steps

But now we head for the Christmas Steps, where we discover that Bristol is a city built on a steep sided valleyside. Known as Queene Street in medieval times, it then became Knyfesmyth after some of the trades that were based here. Possibly through a corruption of that name or possibly (due to the nativity scene of the stained glass windows in a chapel at the top of its four flights of steps) it has since gained its modern name.

Onwards & forever upwards!

Forever upwards, my photo walk takes me past Colston Hall (a music venue), the Hippodrome theatre, up the valleyside to College Green where the city's Cathedral and City Hall are to be found, and then up Park Street towards the University of Bristol.

Before reaching the University my walk heads off to see Brandon Hill Park and its 32m high Cabot Tower.

A balcony with a view

Inside the Cabot Tower a tightly spiralling staircase winds up inside the tower to a platform, to give you wonderful views across the city and the River Avon valley.

Whoever invented tightly spiralling stairs was obviously interested in heavy breathing and choice swear words but moi, I am innocent of such behaviour and instead spring up the steps like a hale & hearty squirrel!
Despite the haze, all is spread out below you
A multilayered cake reveals its tasty interior!


Now, having regained my breath, its time to head to the University. Now the streets start to grow grander, balconies cling to the sides of much of the classical architecture in this area. But look carefully and there is still the occasional glimpse of Street Art.

Up, down, through and over

With a bright blue sky above and the sun casting strong shadows, take your time to look at the shapes of light and dark. Black & White can be ideal in conditions like this. Take your time and explore the camera options, perhaps make a few short video clips to record the sights and sounds of the city.

So the light conditions, as I reached Clifton Village, were ideal for a bit of B&W street photography, capturing some of the people and life near Clifton Arcade and the Primrose Café.

But the day is getting on and I've not yet reached the Clifton Gorge! So, after a quick but convivial caffeine intake, it's time to explore Clifton Down with its old Iron Age Camp and the gorge beyond.

Muddy waters
Where once sailing boats once plied their trade
Now replaced by the traffic jam under the Clifton Suspension Bridge

From here it's all downhill thankfully, back down the valleyside though Cliftonwoods and Hotwells. The beautiful classical terrace of Royal York Terrace (reputedly the longest terrace in Europe) with its mass of balconies on the upper stories, contrasts with the hidden downstairs life of servitude on the below terraced walkway levels of the houses.


The housing though still in terraces becomes smaller in scale, perhaps more intimate with the small garden spaces that abound the route way down.

For a little while, once we reach the bottom of the valleyside, the walk has to confront the realities of the motor cars' impact on the city, with busy roads clinging to the narrow strip of flat land In their bid to escape the city onwards into the country.

Floating Harbour

Meanwhile we eventually reach the Floating Harbour and Spike Island where small boat building still has an important role. Interesting photo opportunities abound all around; timber templates, dusty lathes, the feeling of history perhaps more difficult to capture. But within the surroundings of history are the signs of regeneration, office development and colourful new housing, a new museum about the history of Bristol, pubs and a new social scene.

All the colour of the seaside but inland

And as always when you're exploring a city, keep an eye out for the interesting details that make that city unique

Could "Seven steps to Heaven" be Bristol's new motto?

So there you go, a nine mile photographic explore of the streets, neighbourhoods and parks of Bristol. And all you need is a good guide, a good eye and some good weather .... oh, and plenty of good café halts to allow time for a little relaxation!

Chris was 'ere but 'e be gone now!
  • All photographs were taken using an
  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 and
  • Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens -
  • an ideal small, lightweight, weatherproof, pro quality combination for street photography
Created By
Chris Atkinson


All photographs are copyright of Chris Atkinson www.justswanningaround.co.uk with a regular update via www.facebook.com/justswanningaround Taken using Olympus OM-D E-M1 & m.Zuiko 12-40mm Pro

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