Documentary in Colour: From the Tricorn to the Spinnaker Tower

Image by Tom Benjamin - The Tricorn Centre, 2004

Tom Benjamin remembers the Tricorn and Spinnaker Tower as they were in 2004, as he revisits a college photography project documenting change in the local area.

In early 2004 I was studying photography at college and our final assessment was titled ‘Documentary in Colour’. After researching photographers and shooting a number of concepts I decided on my final direction. 

At that time the city of Portsmouth was going through a moment of historical change. Over by the Historical Dockyard they were constructing the Spinnaker Tower. The 170m tall building was designed to resemble a ship’s sail and when finished it would provide views over the surrounding Solent, on a clear day you would be able to see over to the Isle of Wight.

Image by Tom Benjamin – The Spinnaker Tower, 2004

In the centre of Portsmouth, demolition was about to begin on the neglected Tricorn (see featured image, above), a shopping centre and car park that had become a heated topic in the city. After years of indecision it was proposed that the Tricorn would be replaced by a modern shopping centre.

My aim was to photograph the change the city of Portsmouth was going through at that time, focusing on those two buildings. Due to the time constraints of a college program I wasn’t able to follow the buildings through the whole process of construction and demolition, only capture them as they were at that point. 

At this time I was shooting on film, as digital photography was a fairly new concept, and though the project was Documentary in Colour I shot a few films in black and white, as we were able to process and print these in the college darkroom. These images would later become BRUTAL, a small zine documenting the Tricorn at this time.

Looking back now I couldn’t have chosen two better subjects. The Spinnaker Tower has gone on to become a symbol of the city of Portsmouth and a place I often find myself photographing.

Image by Tom Benjamin – The Spinnaker Tower, 2020

The Tricorn on the other hand has become a lost relic, still causing debate between people that loved or hated the building. The shopping centre that was planned never came to be and for the last fifteen years the space has been a ‘temporary’ car park.

Image by Tom Benjamin – The Commercial Road car park, 2019

As my photography has taken me full circle, with me now largely photographing architecture – especially brutalism – I have recalled these images of the Tricorn: bringing them to life and finding an audience of enthusiasts. They have become a piece of history, documentation of the city at that point in time, realising the aim of the project that I set out to complete in 2004 as a young college student.

This article was originally published on Tom Benjamin’s website, Our Shadows Will Remain. You can also buy Tom’s work, including his lockdown-inspired series Essential, here.

Images by Tom Benjamin.

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