L— A CITY THROUGH ITS PEOPLEOpen Eye Gallery (virtual)
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There are three images missing from Emma Case’s RED exhibition at the Open Eye Gallery’s L—A City Through Its People, each of which can be found three miles away on the Homebaked terraces of Oakfield Road adjacent to Anfield stadium. Together with the 93 photographs on display inside Open Eye, those remaining three bring Case’s archive total to 96. It’s a number we’re all familiar with, and it’s a number that will likely never disappear from conversations about who and what Liverpool is.
As a football fan, an Evertonian in fact, even I see myself in these photographs taken outside Herr Klopp’s (now fragile) fortress and in the homes and pubs of his followers; both as a boy picking out my first scarf, and later as a teenager speculating who might make the line-up over an afternoon pint with my dad – each of us drowned out by a cacophony of ‘same again loves’ and half-cut tactical suggestions by those who never did quite manage to leave the Kendall days behind.
Look hard enough and every football fan and their dog will see themselves in these photographs, too, and in turn will see so much of what has been taken away from them by you-know-what. Not just fans, but from those whose fixture-bound livelihoods depend on the ecology of what it means to go the game – to the chippy, the café, the pub, to the memorabilia stalls. But if the sights, sounds and smells of football matches seem a distant dream, then these images are, however brief, an assurance that they haven’t really gone forever.
The 96 images are part of RED’s wider archive spanning four years on what it means to be a Red, which, alongside Emma Case’s material, also contains fans’ personal photographs, home interviews and amateur home-made memorabilia. There are no footballing celebrities in this collection, only a Crown Paints-clad collective inheriting the batons of tribal solidarity and community spirit. The same spirit passed to new generations and whipped up with each rattle of the turnstile and again reawakened in homes, streets and inner ideals.
Tribal solidarity and community spirit – these ideas flow through the city in abundance, stopping to resurface once more in the Open Eye’s next collection. This sees Scottie Press – Britain’s longest-running community newspaper – present an archive of original photographs and iconic headlines presented in line with the paper’s 50th anniversary – celebrated in February.
When the paper first printed in February 1971, entering the decade under Conservative PM Edward Heath, Scottie Press and those it served in and around the Scotland Road area would see the city’s social fabric ripped up with containerisation and a domino decline in heavy industry. The move would have devastating repercussions for the city that would endure well into the 80s and 90s. The resulting 50-year record of Liverpool’s shifting social, political and religious landscape on display here in Scottie Press’ exhibition is an intimate chronicle of the city’s enduring activism, its places of work, worship and what it did in its free time.
(Peggy by Emma Case)
If RED and Scottie Press’ archives unveil what Liverpool is, it’s fitting that, in closing L—A City Through Its People, the final exhibition examines what Liverpool once was – how it was perceived, shared and lived by its people. Tell It Like It Is, an image-text collaboration between photographer Ian Clegg and writer Laura Robertson, is a series of prints on silver gelatin with accompanying creative-contextual writing which complement the archive’s fragmented moments of nostalgia.
The 24 prints – shot on a “battered Nikon” with HP5 film and left to foment under Clegg’s bed for several decades – are loosely grouped by geographical area, leading you through the neighbourhoods within Toxteth, the city centre and the docks. From L1 through L8, Tell It Like It Is shows us equally battered street landscapes in partial ruin, bordered up premises and giddy, feral-like childhoods spent roaming through town on your bike with your mates.
But, if these three exhibitions tell us of a city confronting hardship, loss and deprivation, then just as quickly, L— A City Through Its People tells us of something we’ve no doubt always known about this place: change is one of few constants in Liverpool, and its people are what gets it through.