It's usually assumed that the view of Birmingham from the M6 is a major liability for the city, but there are some who take a different view.

London photographer Michael Collins is one of them, and he says he knows other London artists who think Birmingham looks a really interesting place and would jump at the chance to explore it further.

Recently Collins has spent a lot of time exploring Hockley in the course of producing Factory, the exhibition which has just opened at the former Museum of Science and Industry in Newhall Street, now renamed the Museum of Lost Heritage.

The exhibition, which combines Collins' photographs taken on a large format (10"x8" negative) camera with images from the city archives produced in a similar way, launches Birmingham Site-Specific, a new series of exhibitions in temporary galleries curated by Pete James, head of photographs at the Central Library.

"I did a book two years ago in which I went through the Institute of Civil Engineers' archive," Collins recalls.

"When photography was first invented civil engineers realised it was the perfect way of recording their work.

"I showed Pete the book and I said I always thought Birmingham was an interesting city and he said go away and take some pictures."

What was it that attracted him about Birmingham?

"It's not an over-designed city. It's a pragmatic city. Some cities have been so tarted up, but here you can see how it's grown up. It looks like a city that's been created by human beings."

On reconnaissance in Hockley he came across an isolated workshop on the edge of the gentrified area around St Paul's Square. His photograph of it, printed on a huge scale, illustrates his forensic approach.

"A lot of photography is designed to give interpretation to what's photographed, but I want you to make your own mind up. I don't want to editorialise. The camera must be really matter-of-fact.

"This for me is why I was photo-graphing Birmingham. You couldn't make it up. If you look at this picture, using a 10x8 negative and then drum-scanning it, however close we get to the image, it doesn't break up. By taking pictures and printing them in this way it means you can systematically interpret the picture. To be able to do it in this [industrial] setting is a wonderful thing."

To illustrate the fragility of remaining manufacturing in the area, it happens that the job which was in progress when Collins photographed the workshop has gone to Poland this year. He was told that to match the Polish price would have meant paying to do it.

"Change is inevitable," he says. "This was probably an allotment or smallholding before this was built. But it doesn't mean change is easy. I don't want to say this is good or this is bad, I just want to say 'look'."

As well as the Hockley workshop Collins has recorded the sad remnants of the Rover factory at Long-bridge, and contrasted it with the state-of-the-art production line at Jaguar in Castle Bromwich.

These new colour images are juxtaposed with equally clinical lack-and-white photographs of Birmingham factories in mid-20th century which are taken from the city's public works archive.

"It's an unbelievable, beautiful archive with thousands and thousands of images. You wouldn't believe it. It's the best archive of its kind I've ever seen. I'm talking to Pete about going through the whole archive and doing a book on it."

But like so much in Birmingham, it's a well-kept secret.

"It's Britain's second city but culturally it's off the map," says Collins.

"I did a lot of pictures of buildings and I had a great response from people here. Everyone I have dealt with has been incredibly supportive."

What Birmingham needs to do, he believes, is to keep a grip on its industrial past while moving forward with new cultural initiatives. He points to the huge success of the Chinese art exhibition at Battersea power station, where what enthrals visitors is not so much the relatively mediocre art but the imposing post-industrial setting.

Otherwise, Birmingham risks losing what is distinctive in a sea of bland apartment blocks.

"Birmingham needs to throw money at cultural initiatives. They should have outside screens with projections and music. Look at the way places like Shoreditch in London have been transformed - the turnover at the Frieze art fair was said to be £600 million.

"The fact is that people say real estate in Birmingham is overpriced because it's not attractive to the right kind of people. But then looking at the architecture in Hockley, it's fantastic. How do you move forward unless you honour what's there already? I think it's such an interesting place. "

* Factory is at the Museum of Lost Heritage, 144 Newhall Street, until October 30 (daily 11am-4pm; admission free).