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Featured Artist: Liz Wewiora, Culture Shifts

Featured Artist: Liz Wewiora, Culture Shifts

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

In 1977 Open Eye Gallery opened their first set of doors on Whitechapel, wanting to pioneer photography in the field of visual art. In 2016, thirty-nine years on, Liverpool wouldn’t dare let them go. So for them to be leading on Culture Shifts is not only appropriate, but necessary.

Culture Shifts, a programme announced a few weeks ago, has been working to create new communities of photographers on Merseyside. Led by Open Eye Gallery & creative producer, Liz Wewiora, the project is the first of its kind to bring together all of the cultural institutions on Merseyside on one collaborative partnership.

The potential that this project has to change Merseyside’s perception of the arts as a useful ‘thing’ is limitless. Over 2017 you’ll struggle to find a gallery without a Culture Shifts exhibition or event taking place.

Colin McPherson, led LGBT groups and Youth Parliament group in explorations of identity, on show at The Atkinson, Southport in early 2017; Andre Jackson and Darryl Georgiou have been working with Granby4Streets as their community relaunches itself; Tadhg Devlin will present work made with the SURF Dementia group as part of Tate Liverpool’s Tate Exchange later this month; Stephen King  displays work made with the St Helens Community at World of Glass; Gary Bratchford & Robert Parkinson’s project with the Halton community with be on show at The Brindley, Runcorn, in summer 2017; and The Williamson Gallery, Birkenhead is showing work produced with Maria Kapajeva & local women from all over The Wirral.

And that’s barely the start of the list by the sounds of it.

Bringing photographers, communities and cultural institutions together is the ultimate goal, but it’s hard to get away from how exciting it all is that this is going to be taking place throughout Open Eye’s 40th anniversary year in 2017.

But what exactly can photography achieve when it comes to communication and building communities?

Liz Wewiora, Creative Producer for Culture Shifts, lets us know how to get involved, what it’s all about, and how Merseyside’s cultural institutions are embarking on a new era of collaboration:

The title obviously implies shifts in culture, but what part of culture does the project hope to shift?

I think Culture Shifts as a title works on a number of levels. It is reflective of the way our society and our daily relationship to visual imagery is rapidly changing, in this digital era. Photography is the most accessible and readily used form of communication of our time, and it is important to reflect on how we can maximise on this to better reflect ourselves and our community. Communities will work collaboratively with professional photographers to shift perceptions of their own identity and community to wider audiences, and in the case of Culture Shifts, reflect the true diversity of the Merseyside region.

There’s a huge list of partner institutions, but is there an example that best explains the “social engagement” aspect of the project?

Social engagement spans through every element of the Culture Shifts programme. First and foremost the photographers commissioned for each residency programme will be working collaboratively with communities to co-design their visual message, co-create a series of images and co-curate an exhibition within our partner institutions. Culture Shifts wants to explore the true potential of what it means to co-author a photographic body of work, bringing a shared voice and message to the images created. On a partner level, it will also be the first time all cultural institutions across each of the Merseyside local authority areas have come together to collaborate on such a programme, and one which we hope to see a future collaborative model of partnership work going forwards.

Open Eye will be one of the most familiar names, if not the most, on the list. What have been your contributions?

Myself as Creative Producer, as well as the entire Open Eye Gallery will take on the role of a supportive structure for the Culture Shifts programme. If the entire Culture Shifts programme was a series of library shelves, we would be the shelving on each bracket. We work to support and nurture each partner relationship with each photographer as well as offer on-going critique and curatorial support between partners, communities and photographers as and when needed. The culminating Culture Shifts exhibition in Autumn 2017 will not only be a celebration of the collective work but a documentation of how each of the projects and their many relationships and layers have developed, over lapped and evolved. Open Eye Gallery will also support the partners, photographers, communities and indeed audiences to come together to reflect upon the work created, learning from each project and disseminate our findings around socially engaged photography practice to the public.

Are there still ways to get involved?

YES! We are working across Sefton, St. Helen’s, Liverpool, the Wirral, Knowsley and Halton to deliver a series of ‘animator training sessions’ to local photography enthusiasts or anyone who would consider themselves a local community ambassador to learn more about creating Photo Stories. This will include how to share these image making and editing skills to other members of their community. The training is delivered by Redeye, a regional photography Network and it is envisaged that any of the images these ‘animators’ go on to take either independently or with other community members will be uploaded on to our associated website ‘Photo Stories’, which launches in February 2017.

Do you have any advice to people reading this on how/why to pay more attention to everyday photography?

I would say to anyone to take advantage of photography, a medium which is so readily at your fingertips! We can never underestimate the power of an image or series of images, and its ability to say so much about the people and places around us, and indeed about ourselves. It is time to take ownership and consideration of our visual communication and Culture Shifts is here to help us work out how we might best do this, but not by working just as lone image makers, but together as visual collaborators. Go take a look outside, then go take a look again – see what you might now find.