Lewis’s 5th Floor: A Department Story
26 February – 30 August 2010
This brand new exhibition of photography taken in one of the UK’s oldest and most iconic department stores reveals a world that has been hidden since the 5th floor was closed to the public in the early 1980s. Local photographer Stephen King has beautifully captured the faded glamour of the hair salon, cafeteria and restaurant which were the epitome of style when they opened on Lewis’s 5th floor in the 1950s.
The exhibition reveals a world of 1950’s design and functionality that has remained hidden since the floor was closed to the public in the early 1980s. Used as a storage floor since then, it has been captured in the work of local photographer Stephen King.
Stephen’s photographs provide a rare glimpse of the floor, originally comprising of a self-service cafeteria, restaurant with waitress service, and a silver service restaurant depicting 1950’s style at its very best. The cafeteria owes its Grade II listed status to the unique ceramic tile work dating back to 1951, featuring condiments, utensils, vegetables and cutlery, referred to as the ‘Festival of Britain’ tiles.
The fifth floor was also renowned for its hair salon, which at one point employed over 50 people alone. It was where the more well off went to get their hair coiffed and where singer Shirley Bassey allegedly sent her wigs to be styled! The seats, hairdryers, sinks and 1970’s period wallpaper still remain.
Wide shots of these main areas of the floor provide the focus for the exhibition, which are accompanied by more defined close-ups of original fixtures including lampshades and hairdryers, evoking the charm and atmosphere of the time.
Although the floor now remains empty, it was once a bustling hive of activity, filled with staff and customers young and old who recognised it as the epitome of leisure, style and shopping in the city. The exhibition includes a series of portraits of current and ex-employees in their original place of work, alonside reminiscences of life at Lewis’s during that era. Their presence injects life into the spectral setting of the now deserted floor.
Stephen’s work not only reminds Merseysiders of their own stories of Lewis’s, but provides all viewers with a unique insight into the history of shopping culture and 1950’s design. His sympathetic approach to capturing his subjects not only immerses the visitor in the eerie emptiness of the floor but also evokes a feeling of joyful nostalgia and a longing for a time that once was.
The exhibition is part of a wider Lewis’s project which includes a documentary, website and book published later this year by Liverpool University Press. This will be Stephen’s first exhibition, and is based on a piece of Liverpool close to his and many other Merseysiders’ hearts.