“To Leeds people – and far beyond – this is home”: Revisiting Peter Mitchell’s Early Sunday Morning
While he is highly regarded by the likes of Martin Parr, Peter’s very first photographic works are being published now, almost 40 years later.
- Lucy Bourton
- 9 November 2020
When Peter Mitchell left art college back in 1972 he made a journey up to Leeds, which would prove to be not only his home for the next decades, but the focus of his creative career too. Originally just heading up to see friends, Peter soon found an apartment and a trucking job, “and never got round to leaving this northern city,” he tells It’s Nice That.
Originally harbouring the artistic intention of becoming a fine-art silk-screen maker, even setting up his own working studio called The Winged Cobra Workshop, Peter’s initial aim was “to use photography with the silk-screen process (instead of drawing etc),” he says. Testing this approach, the bulk of Peter’s photographs ended up being what he saw from his truck window, “mainly the inner city of Leeds, which instantly felt much different from the metropolis of London,” the photographer recalls now. “So I started to photograph the places I was delivering to and Sunday proved the traffic-free moments to be more exploratory.” These never-before-seen images are now being collected together in a new publication by RRB Photobooks, aptly titled Early Sunday Morning.
A photographer now held in high regard for his portrayal and focus on the “strangely familiar”, over the years Peter’s picked up fans from Martin Parr to The New York Times. Despite this current recognition, Early Sunday Morning, taken as he was first exploring the medium of photography, proves Peter’s eye for the practice all along.
Discussing these moments now, the photographer affably recalls a sense of being in the right place at the right time. In 1975, when Peter had plenty of photographic experiments of Leeds’ cityscape, it was the “European Architectural Heritage Year”, when the city’s art gallery put on “a grand show,” he recalls. “I walk in with my stuff and a new curator says, ‘I like the photographs – forget the screen prints,’” placing Peter firmly behind the lens going forward. This moment was also serendipitously timed with what Peter describes as almost “the exact moment the UK had discovered photography as an art form and I benefitted from this cultural change.”
Although revisiting these pieces over the years, “it took other eyes to turn them into a classic book,” says Peter. “And how beautiful Leeds looks!” With each photograph capturing the city as the sun rises on these early Sunday mornings, each architectural shot of Peter’s is met with shadows cascading over every building, or elongating the frame of a person featured. Taken at this time in the day, and at a time when English Sundays were rarely spent out and about, Peter’s photographs also depict the city waking up. It could be via washing strung up between rows of houses, or a passerby peering in the window of a shop to check its opening times, but there is a quietness to each image. Character too is added when people are introduced, hinting at a sense of community that we’ve always seen across Peter’s work. A personal favourite is one image where you can see Peter’s own shadow, legs firmly apart, aiming his camera at a boarded-up corner cluster of houses.
A continuation of tone in his photographs, which Peter describes as “reminders of just how temporary life is,” the photographer is keen that, despite the years that have past: “This is not simple nostalgia printed large,” he says. “To Leeds people – and far beyond – this is home. Be it steel works, blocks of flats, warehouses, mills, coal mines, churches, shops, even graffiti. As it used to say in the movies, ‘all in glorious technicolour’ and all these aspects are present in my work.” Finally, explaining how a large print of the yarn shop featured in the series takes up almost the whole wall in Peter’s home, “I’ve not changed in over 40 years (not the camera) and the yarn shop is still there, albeit as a hairdressers.”
Early Sunday Morning is available from RRB Photobooks here.
Peter Mitchell, Early Sunday Morning, Hyde Park Corner (Copyright © Peter Mitchell, 2020)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.