Sat on Liverpool’s waterfront is Open Eye Gallery, one of the most important galleries -not only in the northwest but also throughout the UK- for promoting photography as an artistic discipline. This year the gallery celebrates its 40th birthday of pioneering work in this field and it has certainly started 2017 as it intends to go on. North: Identity, Photography, Fashion is a collage of medias documenting and depicting the last 30 years in the North of England and the exhibition can be regarded as a glance back over the gallery’s own history.
The show begins with an exploration of the visions and stereotypes people have of the North. One corner is dedicated to photographs and video-works that challenge –or at least expose- the historically white, hetero, boisterous image of the North which can still be seen today. Beside this are archived magazines from the likes of Homme, Face and i-D which remind us of some particularly iconic moments in northern history: an early photoshoot with Kate Moss in Blackpool, interviews with Oasis, and portraits of Morrissey.
‘One corner is dedicated to photographs and video-works that challenge –or at least expose- the historically white, hetero, boisterous image of the North which can still be seen today’
The exhibition continues into an analysis of street fashion and style in cities like Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle. The most interesting thing about these images (other than the fact that the members of Elbow were photographed in the collection – before they were famous) is how you could still walk through Hyde Park in these outfits and not look out of place (although you would be trying too hard). Also included is one of the earliest, handcrafted versions of Raf Simon’s 2003 Parka Jackets are on display alongside some iconic archives of Adidas trainers. These are contrasted with the newest, unreleased pieces by Off-White that were inspired by the northern fashion movements in the 90s.
‘You could still walk through Hyde Park in these outfits and not look out of place (although you would be trying too hard)’
The last room of the gallery houses candid interviews with artists, fashion designers and other creatives from the North, monologuing about their experiences and childhood. A personal favourite for me was Fashion Designer Thom Murphy’s interview on the rise of Acid House in the Northwest and its impact on youth culture, nightlife and violence.
Open Eye Gallery has offered an exciting and varied insight into the North over the past decades. It is difficult to discuss what is on display at the gallery in terms of fashion or photography, in the same way; it is difficult to talk about the North as one homogenous region. Its only real common denominator is diversity and variety of styles, accents, and attitudes. This exhibition has expressed this extremely well. I highly recommend paying it a visit.
(Photograph by Alice Hawkins, Derrin Crawford & Demi Leigh Cruickshank in ‘The Liver Birds’ LOVE magazine, Liverpool, 2012)