Andy Johnson Investigates Open Eye

I first went to the Open Eye Gallery in the 80’s when it was in Whitechapel near the entrance to
the old tunnel. I loved it then esp the way the curators welcomed and encouraged local people
to be interested in photography. Here I learnt the basics of black and white development and
documentary photography plus an appreciation of photographs. There was a heady mix of the best
of local and international photographers whose work all in some way related to what was happening

The gallery moved to Bold St when the area developed and took its sensitivity to the Liverpool
cultural mentality and its international knowledge of people working in the field with it. Again it
moved to Fleet Street. When it moved here I found the work displayed no longer connected with me
and I found myself no longer visiting.

It has moved again to Mann Island and I was curious to see if I could start relating to what was being
displayed and I would wish to be a regular visitor again.

I popped along this afternoon and was immediately welcomed by 2 volunteer gallery assistants who
were interested in my story and took time to explain how the gallery worked. They also made sure
I had a gallery guide. I did a kind of test and wondered how a photo gallery would respond to my
request to have a picture taken to accompany this article. They quickly responded, took 2 photos as I
was in the gallery and they were waiting for me in my e-mail when I arrived home. I’ve got to say this
is the best I’ve ever been treated in a gallery and it really added to my experience.

I enjoyed the 2 shows that were being shown. I found them both thought provoking and related to
my experience of living in Liverpool. I think we are a city that can look outwards at times and I was
interested in the main exhibition that attempted to document what is happening in the Congo. I was
impressed by the range of size of prints and how they related to the gallery space plus the innovative
use of film. This is an exhibition that made me think of the effect the west has on Africa and has
stimulated me to find out more. I discovered there were strong literary connections to Joseph
Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ that I recently read with my book club which added to my experience.
It was also good that the gallery has space for someone like me to sit and read the exhibition guide
and accompanying photographic books and allow time to reflect on what is being seen.

Upstairs was an archive exhibition that complemented the exhibition downstairs. This was a series
of black and white photos. The gallery assistant explained the photographer requested them to be
displayed as though they were a set of tombstones – this helped my appreciation of the images.
I found many of them to be beautiful and striking and for me this added weight to the sombre
messages they were carrying about the effects of genocide.

Overall I had an enjoyable and interesting hour or so in the gallery. I noticed that the other visitors
were also treated in a friendly welcoming way. I will definitely go again, esp. as I have been added to
the mailing list so I will be invited to future talks, events and openings.

The exhibitions that were on display were: Richard Mosse – Infra & Simon Norfolk – For Most of it I
Have No Words: Genocide, Landscape, Memory.