The exterior walls of the Open Eye Gallery are etched with the memories of those who have engaged with the space throughout its 40 year history, quotations from those who have had their work exhibited, and what it means for them and their community, and how they have been given a helping hand.
That day I was there to see the opening of the Culture Shifts: Local programme, which will be in part presented in this main hub until the 22nd of December.
The programme is split into eight projects covering eight different regions of Liverpool, using the medium of photography to address different concerns that a society will face in the 21st century.
“The work demonstrates how photographs as an art form can be used to help communities define themselves, bridge cultural divides and communicate the vital issues of today.”
What becomes apparent is that increasingly galleries that are working with their neighbouring communities in a way that television used to so incredibly well. I grew up in a time of programming for Schools and Colleges, which presented programmes on vocations and skills training, and later, Video Nation, which were ten minute segments filmed and presented by the viewers about their lives, which were given prime-time slots on BBC2 before Newsnight.
Times change, funds are cut and the only way you could see, for a while, the face of the public on the television was on game shows or grotesques on the old cliché of reality TV. Times are thankfully changing, and the plight of BBC3 in particular is a testament to this, however, now safely on the internet, the amount of documentaries that address the ‘vital issues’ are staggering. And most recently, Twofour’s excellent “Educating…” series on Channel 4 are giving voice to the new generation, and I sincerely hope that this trend continues.
But for the while, away from mass media, it is the galleries, and particularly within photography, that are giving communities ownership to open dialogue. In Culture Shifts: Local, the images on display are the result of dialogue between artist and community. This is the Open Eye Gallery’s ethos, photo based photography where the collaborative conversational process is just as important as the creation.
The exhibitions on display are effectively re-build of communities through creative action. And the exhibition at the gallery is not just the full extent of the work, the can be viewed at the site-specific locations throughout Merseyside. There is a map on the wall of the gallery where visitors can go to view the work, and you can see a full list of them, with links to interviews and more information, below.
Tadhg Devlin with the SURF (Service User Reference Forum) Dementia Network group. “Life Beyond Diagnosis”
Culture Shifts artist residencies in Granby/Toxteth, Liverpool – “The World Lived Here: L8” (Darryl Georgiou and Rebekah Tolley) and “Home is a Person” (Andrew Jackson)
Tony Mallon with Women from Northwood Golden Years group “Winds of Change”
Gary Bratchford and Robert Parkinson with Widnes Golden Generation group and the Women of Windmill Hill
Colin McPherson with New Beginnings and Sefton Youth Voice group
Stephanie Wynne and Steph Fawcett with Tomorrow’s Women Wirral and women from Wirral Change
Stephen King with Communities from St. Helen’s steel, glass and canal industries.
There is an underlying theme present under a few of these stories, the promise of new lives away from what they grew up with, which are quickly forgotten as factory sites for the workers arrive and close, and the once solid communities start to disperse. These exhibitions must therefore be seen as re-builds of communities through creative action.
The Open Eye Gallery has a marvellous bookshop as well, ready for those to take their interest further, I bought a copy of the Gallery’s quarterly publication Tilt, which contains two essays about the current programme, which emphasises the way in which the artists have worked with the participants, thus giving them full control in the process in how they are depicted.
“The actual material that is left behind – the photographs – remain important – but then so is the social process in which they are made. This way of making social things public means that (…) these photographs are truly brief chronicles of our time and place.” (Paul Jones, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology at the University of Liverpool, from “Photography Is Always Social.”)
For more about Culture Shifts’ online showcasing platform, please visit photostories.org.uk