During our recent visit to Liverpool I spotted “Everybody Razzle Dazzle” pulling into the Pier Head ferry terminal. The light was better than last time I photographed the ferry so I snapped a shot.
The jazzy design was created by Sir Peter Blake as part of the First World War commemorations and was inspired by the Dazzle camouflage used on merchant ships transporting goods across the Atlantic during the First World War as a way of confusing U-boats.
While we were in Liverpool last weekend we called into the Open Eye Gallery which is located in one of the modern glass buildings at Man Island near the Pier Head. The photographic gallery is in it’s 40th year and it’s always worth a visit to have a look at whatever exhibition is on. We’ve seen some excellent photographs and discovered some talented photographers during our visits.
The current exhibition Affecting Change
looks at how real change is made today, and what role photography has in that process. The exhibition features five rising photographers working in the North West.
The works on show look into the daily lives of people working hard to transform the lives of others. The artists have worked in collaboration with various collectives across Liverpool, a city renowned for transcending insular politics by championing positive change.
There’s even an opportunity for visitors to contribute their views on how to affect change, originally by writing on the wall (see photo at the head of this post), but as this has become filled up (obviously plenty of people have views on this!) the comments have to be written on sticky notes that can be stuck to the nearby door.
Addressing the issue of how migrants are treated, Yetunde Adebiyi has produced a series of photographs based around the work of Between the Borders, an organisation dedicated to improving the experiences of asylum seekers.
I particularly liked the wall of photographs by Jane MacNeil
There are controversial plans to redevelop the North Docks area on the Liverpool waterfront. A lot of the publicity has focused on how the development could affect the look of the historic waterfront with talk of removing its Unesco world heritage site status. There’s been less written about the affect a major development will have on the people currently living and working there. Working with the North Docks Community Group, the photographer has produced a series of images , featuring people from the local community and the places where they live and work.
Jane MacNeil usually specialises in street photography, so this series based on posed portraits is something of a departure for her. But a successful one in my view.
Upstairs, Danny Ryder has recreated the inside of the not-for-profit radical bookshop News From Nowhere. Now located in Bold Street, a street of independent shops, many years ago I used to spend many an hour browsing the shelves in the shop in its original location near the entrance to the Queensway Mersey Tunnel.
The replica bookshop also functions as a reading room and social space, with seating and hot drinks provided.
On Saturday we drove over to Liverpool – the main purpose being to visit the latest exhibition at the Tate, Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919–1933. It’s actually two exhibitions: ARTIST ROOMS: August Sander, and Otto Dix: The Evil Eye.
August Sander was a German photographer who between the two World Wars attempted to document the people of Germany in a series of photographs People of the Twentieth Century. The exhibition includes well over 100 photographs (I lost count) from this series
August Sander – Self Portrait
He took portraits of people from all segments of society grouping them into seven distinct categories: ‘The Farmer’, ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, ‘The Woman’, ‘Classes and Professions’, ‘The Artists’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Last People’.
To take the photographs he used an old-fashioned large-format camera, glass negatives and long exposure times. This allowed him to capture his subjects in minute detail.
At the same time his set up meant that there was a shallow “depth of field” which meant that the background is out of focus. This means that the viewer concentrates on the subject rather than their surroundings.
The image many people have of the Weimar Republic was of a rather wild, bohemian society where “anything goes”. He certainly captured this aspect of the times with photographs like this one of a secretary with her fashionable, shapeless dress, androgynous, almost masculine hairstyle and manner. She looks like someone out of Cabaret
Secretary at West German Radio in Cologne
He also photographed intellectuals such as the subject of the second half of the exhibition – Otto Dix
The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha
But the majority of his subjects were ordinary workers, farmers, mothers and children. which probably paint a truer picture of life between the wars in Germany
The Man of the Soil
He also included portraits of people on the fringes of society – including the blind and disabled people. The same people who would soon be persecuted by the Nazis. His portraits however, for the times, are sympathetic.
Sander had leftist views and was clearly on the side of the outsiders. Included in the exhibition were a number of Jewish victims of persecution, such as this young lady.
A victim of persecution
The photographs were originally taken for their passports as they were attempting to leave Germany towards the end of the 1930s. They show real, ordinary people at a time when the Nazis were presenting distorted caricatures of Jews.
”It is not my intention either to criticize or to describe these people, but to create a piece of history with my pictures.”
and to achieve that aim he also photographed the very people who were responsible for the persecution
National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture
even though one of their victims was his own son, an active socialist.
Political Prisoner [Erich Sander]
The Tate has displayed the photographs chronologically along with a commentary listing the events occurring when they were taken, rather than grouped by ”type,” as Sander intended. I wonder whether this loses something. Nevertheless I felt that it was an excellent exhibition of outstanding portraits, showing the skill and the dedication of the photographer as an artist.
Shirley Baker (1932-2014) is thought to be the only woman practicing street photography in Britain during the post-war era. Baker’s humanist documentary work received little attention throughout her sixty-five years career.
“My sympathies lay with the people who were forced to exist miserably, often for months on end, sometimes years, whilst demolition went on all around them.”
The exhibition which was originally shown The Photographer’s Gallery, London.
specifically focuses on her depictions of the urban clearance programmes of inner city Manchester and Salford.
with photographs mainly taken during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the years when I was growing up – not in Manchester or Salford, but in a Lancashire mill town less than 20 miles away. The urban landscape was similar to that of the big city – with terraced streets and post war development. Other than the first year of my life (which I can’t, of course, remember) we lived in modern housing, initially on a Council Estate and then, in my teens, on a new build estate. But my grandparents lived in a terraced house on a typical street.
Shirley Baker was very much a “street photographer”, and took photographs of ordinary people – the women, children and “loitering men” who lived in the poorer parts of the “twin cities” of Manchester and Salford, in and around the terraced streets, bomb sites and slum clearances.
These photographs really resonated with me – as well as most of the visitors to the exhibition who I overheard talking as I walked around the galleries. The streets, the clothing and the activities depicted in the photographs, all brought back memories.
The young boy in the cowboy hat could have been me – I had one too and would have dressed just like that when I was a similar age.
and when I was a little older I could easily have been one of these boys fishing down the grid for “treasure” or one of the children playing on the makeshift swing made from a rope tied to the lamp-post in the picture at the top of this post.
The clothing the children and adults in the photos are wearing are very much the same as I remember. So very different from today’s “designer” outfits that even relatively young children wear today.
And the lady in this photograph is wearing very typical clothing for the time with her overcoat and headscarf – she could have been walking down any of the streets in my home town when I was growing up.
Here we can see an older woman cleaning the pavement, and possibly whitening the step with a “donkey stone” . People were poor but took pride in their homes. With her patterned housecoat covering her dress, her atire is typical of that worn by a working class woman of her age in the 60’s and 70’s in the north of England.
Inner city Salford and Manchester were poorer areas than the town in which I lived. So I don’t recall things as being quite as grim as in many of the photographs when I was a child. Nevertheless the photographs are representative of the world in which I lived.
I’d not heard of Shirley Baker before. It was difficult for women to establish a career as a photographer in the 1960’s.
(She studied) Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology, being one of very few women in post-war Britain to receive formal photographic training. Upon graduating, she took up a position at Courtaulds the fabric manufacturers, as an in-house factory photographer. Working in industry did not meet her photographic ambitions in wanting to emulate a ‘slice of life’ style similar to that of Cartier-Bresson. She soon left to take up freelance work in the North West. Further study in medical photography over one year in a London hospital did little to settle her ambition to work as a press photographer. Hampered by union restrictions on female press photographers, she abandoned plans to work for the Manchester Guardian. Though she took up teaching positions in the 1960s, ultimately it was in pursuing her own projects where she came to feel most fulfilled. (Source)
More of her work can be seen on the Shirley Baker website.
When this exhibition was shown in London, many of the visitors (probably mainly middle class southerners) must have thought they were staring at a different world. But for me, and other visitors to the Manchester gallery, it brought back memories of our childhood and youth. (I’ve nothing against middle class southerners, by the way. I may have grown up in a working class family, but have to admit to being a middle class northerner these days)
In summary, this is an excellent exhibition which I will, no doubt, revisit, probably more than once, when I’m in Manchester over the next few months.
Addendum. I was in Manchester today to meet up with an Australian friend (like me a middle class professional, who grew up in a working class mining community) who was in the city for a short while. I introduced her to Lowry (she’d never heard of him) by showing her some of the pictures in the Gallery’s collection – and then took her to the exhibition to show her the world I grew up in.