Culture Shifts: Local presents new work from eight socially engaged photography projects across Liverpool

June Making Tea © Tony Mallon and Northwood Golden Years Group, 2017

Culture Shifts: Local presents new work from eight socially engaged photography projects across Liverpool

Photography has become a crucial part of the way that we communicate with each other every day, a kind of language of its own. How, then, can this global language be used in a way that unites communities and champions positive change? Culture Shifts: Local, a new exhibition at Open Eye Gallery, presents new work produced by photographers working closely with communities across Liverpool City Regions. The work demonstrates how photography as an art practice can be used to help communities define themselves, bridge cultural divides and communicate the vital issues of today.

The group show at Open Eye Gallery opens on 6th October, with a free and open launch night on Thursday 5th, 5:30-8PM.

The projects are all part of the citywide, long-term Culture Shifts project. Each of the eight projects involves select photographers working alongside one or more groups, including a support and services network for women, residents of Granby Four Streets (site of the Turner prize-winning Assemble project), and youth groups dedicated to LGBTQ+ support and Youth Parliament.

A selection of the work will be presented at Open Eye Gallery throughout Autumn 2017, with an additional solo offsite exhibition for each project in a space in the neighbourhood of each community featured: a total of eight exhibitions across 2017.

Unlike documentary photography, the staging, selection and production of the images was decided between the groups and the photographs they were working with. The question of who took the image is unimportant. This is part of Open Eye Gallery’s mission to champion socially engaged photography – photo-based projects that are participatory, in which the collaborative and conversational process of creating the photos is just as important as the final pieces.

Liz Wewiora, Creative Producer at Open Eye Gallery, said:

“It has been inspiring to see the Culture Shift projects develop over the past 12 months; to see each community and photographer come together and break down traditional concepts that the camera captures a single view. Each collaboration has developed differently, depending on the place, people and photographer involved, reflecting the diversity and possibilities within socially engaged photography practice today.”  

One of the projects involves two youth groups: New Beginnings is an LGBTQ+ support network for young people, providing a safe and non-judgemental space, and Sefton Youth Voice is a youth parliament group. Working with Colin McPherson, the young people identified the societal issues they felt passionate about and created staged shots to communicate the everyday reality of living with these issues. For the parliamentary group, these include the media, mental health, and politics. For the New Beginnings LGBTQ+ group, it includes labelling, role models and perceptions. In addition to the showcase at Open Eye Gallery, an exhibition, Positive Changes, will take place at The Atkinson in Southport, from 9th September – 5th November.

Tony Mallon worked with a group of older women based in his birthplace to the north of the city. The women are notable for offering their time to help run a much-loved community centre in Kirkby after it announced its imminent closure, volunteering their time to keep it open. These women, some of whom have lived in the area for 50 years, moved to the area on the promise of fresh air and a better life away from the slums of 60s and 70s Liverpool City Centre. The project features portrait shots of the women engaged in the everyday activism of keeping the centre open for their community. These images are shown next to found photographs of women in the area producing munitions in some of the UK’s biggest weapons factories. The work will form Winds of Change, an exhibition at Kirkby Gallery, from 18th September – 13th January.

Photographers Stephanie Wynne and Stephanie Fawcett worked with two groups, Wirral Change and Tomorrow’s Women Wirral. The exhibition is formed of two projects. Another Language involved working with international women from Wirral Change, many of whom have English as a second language. In this collaborative project, photography is used as a tool to communicate across barriers, through long call-and–response photo sequences that stretch across the gallery like unfurled rolls of film.

In the Pink Room was produced with Tomorrow’s Women Wirral, a safe female-only environment. The women have varied interests and reasons for attending the centre; this is reflected in the work produced. Each participant photographed or collected images of personal interest, they then applied these images to masks. They chose masks to display their photographs because they felt that we all, often, have to disguise our true selves. With the support and fellowship found at Tomorrow’s Women Wirral they feel they’ve been helped to remove their masks.

The project with Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust features portraits of local residents in their homes or places of work. Photographers Andrew Jackson and multi media artists Darryl Georgiou & Rebekah Tolley worked with the local communities to produce work that reflected daily life in Toxteth, an area that is looking forwards to a brightening future yet still in some ways dealing with the fallout of the infamous ‘81 riots. The work will be on show at the new Winter Garden space, created following a commission to renovate one of the area’s derelict houses.

Culture Shifts: Local launches 5th October at Open Eye Gallery. A series of off-site exhibitions will also take place at spaces around the region. To find out more, head here.