North: Identity, Photography, Fashion is now showing at Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery, 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 its influences are felt. 

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….  

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. Music is naturally a prominent theme, I loved seeing an early image of The Stone Roses (Glen Luchford’s first Face shoot for the band).

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, their rollered hair 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. In fact, I’ve become fairly obsessed with the photography of Hawkins since the exhibition, her obvious admiration for her subject matter, love of glitz, and fantastic use of light.

 

The next room documents and celebrates the idiosyncratic and identifiably northern influence on fashion. There’s very much a sport and casuals emphasis – a look which seems to prompt endless revivals to this day (I notice Urban Outfitters are currently doing a revival of the trend). Adidas archive trainers are beautifully displayed and there’s 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. 

The space upstairs offers a more contemplative and personal experience. Produced by Showstudio, the room is decked out somewhat like an early 60s house. At the launch, the din downstairs seemed far away as visitors tip-toed almost silently round the space, waiting their turn to listen through headphones to stories by stylists and fashion figures. PICK ME UP exhorts one phone in Alice in Wonderland style, as you settle into a flowery 70s armchair. 

 

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 producing pioneers of fashion and clubland, the north is a cultural force, and this is a timely and inspirational show. 

North: Identity, Photography, Fashion

6th Jan to 19th March

 

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