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An artist’s take on a Tameside landmark

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Stairway to Heaven? Artist / photographer: Stephen Riley
This photograph was taken in the cemetery in Dukinfield, Tameside, Greater Manchester. Artists have always had a fascination with such places and what they stand for, from the Gothic sculptors of Dark Ages cathedrals to the Romantic painters and writers of the early 19th century to the death obsession of contemporary sculptor, Damien Hirst. However, for the many people not routinely engaged with those more esoteric parts of our culture, monumental stonemasons’ sculpture might be the only kind ever encountered.

This place is well known to most local people. It is large, fixed doggedly onto a windswept hilltop, and has views up and down the Tame Valley, from Ashton-under-Lyne one way to Stalybridge and Mossley in the other.

I had actually gone there with regard to the other aspect of my work (freelance photography - see www.stephenrileyphoto.co.uk), in order to get a vantage point on and record a Victorian cotton mill which has part-collapsed and will soon be demolished, but the melancholy of the place - all those countless lives and their stories - demanded attention. Some shots were more obvious, but the simple, minimal one chosen here is one of the more enigmatic images. From the photograph alone, it is not at all clear what we are looking at: just some shadows on a path, the source of which cannot be seen. The objects throwing the shadows might be trees or people, but they are in fact gravestones; their dark facsimiles being sharply defined by the cool winter sun, hanging low in the sky.