North: Iden­ti­ty, Pho­tog­ra­phy, Fash­ion at Liv­er­pool’s Open Eye Gallery, 6th Jan to 19th March 2017, is the first exhi­bi­tion to be held as part of their 40th anniver­sary year. Cura­tors Lou Stop­pard and Adam Mur­ray have tak­en an in-depth and far reach­ing look of the cre­ativ­i­ty of the towns, cities and sub­urbs of the north through dif­fer­ent media and the way their influ­ences are perceived. 

On walk­ing into the gallery at the launch, the ini­tial impres­sion is of a fan­tas­tic, explo­sive ener­gy which is almost over­whelm­ing – pho­tog­ra­phy, archive mag­a­zine mate­r­i­al, fash­ion, inter­views, instal­la­tions. After wan­der­ing around in a dream, I then went round it all again, to process it and allow things to fall into place: move­ments and cre­ative threads traced – pho­tog­ra­phy over­lap­ping into music, music into fashion.… 

Open Eye Gallery North exhibition

The first room of the gallery is ded­i­cat­ed to images by pho­tog­ra­phers who have helped shape a north­ern aes­thet­ic; the work, pri­mar­i­ly of street scenes, is bold and uncompromising. 

There are sev­er­al images by Shirley Bak­er (in black frames, above) tak­en in 60s Man­ches­ter, and oth­ers from at a sim­i­lar time by John Bul­mer includ­ing his 60s image of two women eat­ing chips, hair in rollers and cov­ered by the then oblig­a­tory scarves. By way of con­trast is Alice Hawkins’ fash­ion shot Liv­er Birds – two girls in 2013 out on the street, loud and proud, rollers worn as a fash­ion statement.

Souse girls with rollers in their hair by alice hawkins
Pho­to­graph: Alice Hawkins
Open eye gallery north exbibition

The next room doc­u­ments and cel­e­brates the idio­syn­crat­ic and iden­ti­fi­ably north­ern influ­ence on fash­ion. There’s very much a sport and casu­als empha­sis. Adi­das archive train­ers are beau­ti­ful­ly dis­played and includes a Raf Simons par­ka from the A/W 2003 Con­trol col­lec­tion, with graph­ics by Peter Sav­ille, design­er of Joy Divi­sion and New Order cov­er art. 

Open Eye Gallery North exhibition with Adidas trainers
Adi­das trainers

The space upstairs offers a more con­tem­pla­tive and per­son­al expe­ri­ence. Pro­duced by Show­stu­dio, the space is decked out as a late 50s/early 60s series of room sets. At the launch, the din down­stairs seemed far away as vis­i­tors tip-toed round silent­ly, lis­ten­ing through head­phones to mono­logues by styl­ists and fash­ion fig­ures, mem­o­rable moments of their child­hood that had set them on their career trajectory. 

 There’s plen­ty of humour, affec­tion and pride in this com­pre­hen­sive exhi­bi­tion which takes in doc­u­men­tary style pho­tog­ra­phy through to cur­rent fash­ion. From bleak post-indus­tri­al land­scape to pio­neer­ing moments of fash­ion and club­land, north­ern towns and cities have been a cul­tur­al force, and this is a time­ly and inspi­ra­tional show. 

North: Identity, Photography, Fashion

6th Jan to 19th March 2017

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