Chris Hoare’s latest monograph, Seven Hills, paints a portrait of a mythological city fraught with class conflict
From Sheffield to Istanbul, Lisbon, Nevada City and Athens, there are more than 75 cities across the globe that – like Rome, the so-called Eternal City – claim to be built on seven hills. Among them is Bristol. “The list is enormous,” explains photographer Chris Hoare, who grew up and still lives in the English city. “Because of Rome, there’s this myth. I’m not concerned whether Bristol actually is or isn’t [built on seven hills], but I like the myth.”
Resident in the southwest for most of his life, the city’s foundations – apocryphal or otherwise – spurred the moniker for Hoare’s new monograph, published by RRB Books later this month. Foregrounding quiet moments around the city and shaped by the photographer’s complicated relationship with gentrification, Seven Hills highlights a Bristol most familiar to those with deep roots there. “There are two sides of Bristol, which [is what] I’m interested in,” says Hoare. “I’m from the edge of the city, but the inner city is very popular so people are moving in from all over. It’s a great thing, but can be problematic.”
While much of the imagery in the new book was shot in the last four years, Hoare describes becoming more politicised in the last decade, something he first harnessed with I’ll be there with a smile, a five-year study of portraits made on a single street in Bristol’s Bedminster district. “That’s what made me really think about the changes happening, the people moving in and the people getting left behind,” he explains. In the last ten years Bristol’s population has swelled, affecting house prices and subsequently renters: many today face issues second only to London.
“I enjoy the city, don’t get me wrong, I’m part of everything,” Hoare continues, referencing the extensive redevelopment and the murky nature of gentrification, “But I want to show that that’s not the only Bristol – it’s not just the centre or Clifton Suspension Bridge. Sometimes I think people move into areas and don’t think about respect. It’s complicated, class is a big part of it. How people operate, how they engage with people – do they just import their life into that area?”
The pulling down of the Colston statue in 2020 further illuminated why he was making the work. “It was a global news story for a short period, and that reminded me of Bristol’s importance historically. It made me think about this divisiveness. Although my work doesn’t necessarily show that, it’s what drove me to respond.” His feelings however, aren’t necessarily echoed by all of his subjects, many of whom are teenagers. “The kids aren’t thinking about Bristol in the way in which I do, they’re too involved in living in these areas and seeing their friends,” he acknowledges. “Older people are thinking about these things more; they’re proud of being Bristolian and proud it’s a popular city.”
Drawn to youth culture and photographing people who remind him of growing up, Hoare’s photographs include tender portraits of kids sharing cigarettes, young couples exploring, and boys masked-up on bikes. “There are a lot of young lads [in my pictures] because I find them interesting, and it’s easier for me to approach them than girls,” he notes. It’s the figures on bikes, in particular, that writer Moses McKenzie gravitated towards for Thrown Stones At God, a fictional text that accompanies the work. “His writing’s beautiful, so I was interested in seeing his response to my pictures,” says Hoare. The pair were first partnered when one of Hoare’s images accompanied a text by McKenzie in the literary magazine Granta. “He’s from Easton [an inner-city area of Bristol], so he comes from a certain perspective, and I’ve got a different perspective [being from the north of Bristol].”
Long inspired by his surroundings – Hoare has exhibited and published several projects focused on Bristol, including Growing Spaces and Keywork, both released in 2021 – but Seven Hills is perhaps the most intimate he shares. “It feels personal, more so than some of the other ones. I will keep photographing these things, but it feels like a moment. It’s good to finally have something [physical] that shows my vision.”
Seven Hills by Chris Hoare is published by RRB Books and is available to pre-order here now.