The revelation of beauty | The photography of Lee Mawdsley

By James Packer,

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32 leemawdsley072“The landlord of our local pub gave me my first camera. My dad bought it in exchange for his shotgun and £50 cash on my 21st birthday,” Lee Mawdsley says of his introduction to photography. He was working as an Engineer’s Apprentice when his father handed him the Chinon M42 screw-fit lens camera.

Lee set off along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal photographing the locks and industrial buildings along the route, when it dawned on him that this was something he was rather good at. But it wasn’t until he won a coveted place on the Fine Art Photography course at the Arts University Bournemouth, that he really hit his stride. 


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“The course at Bournemouth was very prestigious and I was lucky to be taught by Richard Learoyd, a contemporary master of photography who is famous for testing the physical limits of the analogue process,” says Lee. “I couldn’t have asked for a better or more inspiring mentor.” Lee cut his teeth working for a modernist set of design agencies and for developers, photographing commercial and residential buildings for corporate brochures and websites, as well as product and people shots. As his portfolio grew so did his reputation for mastery of shape, pattern and texture and his knack for finding beauty in unlikely places.

“The structures that most inspire me aren’t famous skyscrapers or landmark historical buildings. It’s the architecture of industrialisation and the people in that landscape, particularly factories, that draw me most strongly.” Prestigious buildings are beautiful too, he argues,
but they don’t always have the ability to surprise. “A sublime building is there, in all its glory, waiting to be photographed. I prefer the challenge of finding the magic that exists in some spaces but which isn’t always obvious. In fact, the more underwhelming the building the better. I move around it, explore the lines and then suddenly in an instant, it will reveal itself.”

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A study of Lee Mawdsley’s web archive shows a devoted documentation of the relationship between people and space. Almost all of his architectural shots explore the contrast of form between, as he puts it, “the rectangular, linear man-made buildings and the organic, fluid lines of human form”, which creates both dimension and scale, as well as bringing life and fluidity to a manufactured setting. Buildings without people, he says, are inanimate. It’s the relationship with their inhabitants that gives them life and purpose.

Industry first worked with Lee Mawdsley on a photoshoot for the Commercial Bank of Qatar, producing one of the first catalogues of authentic photography in the country. His work has taken him far and wide, from the subterranean home of the McLaren Technology and Learning Centre in Woking to the cloud-covered tips of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers, yet he’s extremely modest about his own success, claiming to be “very fortunate.” He welcomes the explosion of photographic material in existence in the world as we all become photographers in our own right, documenting and curating the story of our own lives online. “The pencil’s been around a long time, but we’re not surrounded by great writers”, he says. “The tools are easily available and those with a talent will discover and nurture it. More photographs in the world is a good thing.”

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This article first appeared in Industry Magazine Issue 1.