Translating the street – The Hive, Birkenhead
Casey Orr on her latest project with Alternator Studios
Translating the street has been a project I’ve wanted to see revived ever since its first edition back in 2016, when Brigitte Jurack, lead artist at Alternator Studios in Birkenhead, linked nationally renowned artists with the small businesses of Oxton Road.
Three years on I’ve got my wish, and I cannot wait to see what happens. It promises to be a very different offering to the first, where Harold Offeh, Haleh Jamali and Jeff Young were invited to live and work in Birkenhead and to listen to the stories unfolding in three iconic businesses on the street. Sadly some have now closed their doors, and the momentum of the area, and the public hand in it’s development, is clear in this 2019 edition.
Rather than private hair dressers, green grocers or cobblers, Casey Orr and Kwong Lee are working with The Hive Youth Zone and Birkenhead Library to connect with their users rather than the owners and workers of the area. Chris Dobrowolski is working with Kitstop Model Shop and Polski Sklep European Delicatessen though, in a project that is likely to be more reminiscent of the defining 2016 output.
The interest this year then is in difference, in how these spaces can appear through the eyes of their residents. We spoke to Casey Orr about her work with The Hive ahead of the launch, and her wonder shone through, having discovered a whole new world on emerging from the Queensway Tunnel for the first time.
Were you familiar with Oxton Road before you got involved with Translating the Street? What sort of place do you think you represented through the studio there?
Casey Orr: I hadn’t been to Birkenhead before. Kids are doing what kids are doing everywhere, but also there is something different and unique about the place. I don’t know the area enough to say what that is but it’s thrilling to me to emerge into the place from under the Mersey.
Where have you been based for your part of Translating the Street?
C: I’ve been working with The Hive since Autumn 2018. The Hive is just the most fantastic youth club you could ever imagine with lots of different spaces and activities. It’s loud and creative with a staff team of people who really believe in what they do. These physical gathering places are so important!
What’s been the most rewarding result of this project?
C: The large printed portraits being held in different locations in Birkenhead by kids who I met at The Hive were an experiment. They’re a mix of portraiture, cityscapes and performance. I wasn’t sure if the idea would work but I’m pleased with the results.
What does photography bring to a project like this? Working in a really direct way with a community?
C: Portraiture is different from selfies and the social media sharing we’ve become accustomed to. Portraiture is a collaboration between me and the people I’m working with.
So, for me, I get to explore a place I don’t know and work with new people. I go into a project with an open attitude to what the outcomes will be, to allow this idea of collaboration to unfold. This is a slow way of using photography that is unusual these days and can make us think differently about how we are and what the place we know can be.
Has Translating the Street linked up with any of your other work?
C: Since 2013 I photographed young women in towns and cities throughout the UK with a pop up portrait studio as part of my series Saturday Girl. Saturday Girl is an exploration of self-expression, style, and tribe identity. After 14 cities, 6 years and over 600 portraits Saturday Girl will be published this summer by Bluecoat Press.
Translating The Street 2019 opens in various locations on the 13th April, with a full afternoon of events
Find out more by visiting www.artinliverpool.com/events/birkenhead-translating
Interview, Patrick Kirk-Smith