Liverpool People by Stephen Shakeshaft at the Conservation Centre

 October 18, 2009         1 Comment

I do like the Conservation Centre’s unfussy curation, and its current exhibition of Post and Echo photographer Stephen Shakeshaft’s photography, called Liverpool People, is no different.

Shakeshaft’s job, by his own admission, was centred around news and sport but he was often able to go out and shoot Liverpool in all its beautiful and grimy glory.

The spontaneous nature of the snaps in the exhibition is often apparent, and the bold high-contrast monochrome really lends itself well to the older shots in the collection, which feel like generations ago.

Where Shakeshaft’s images excel is in their depiction of the clearance of tiny terraces that Liverpool was swathed in until the 70s.

They paint a transition not just in geography and housing, but also in culture and society.

The obvious determination of the people displayed in the beautiful, brilliant photographs to stay in their tiny Dickensian hovels lacking in amenities seems unthinkable, but the beauty of hindsight tells us the tower blocks that replaced them were hardly the paragon they were sold as.

You sense Shakeshaft knows it now, and knew it then and though he doesn’t explicitly state that the city has changed forever, perhaps for the worse, it’s certainly possible to make that inference.

The images of people at work, on the docks and roads and in the wash houses, are also superb – and I particularly liked a description of fruit-andveg seller Lizzie Christian’s ‘potato-stained’ hands.

While there’s always a danger of sentimentalising the olden days, a particular danger in Liverpool, there are sufficient reminders of Liverpool’s difficult transition and hard times to balance out the talk of ‘only in Liverpool’ places and faces.

It’s summed up in a portrait of Ken Dodd with a little girl from Claire House that shows Dodd kneeling down to talk to the girl. In the hands of a particularly clod-hopping sub it could be saccharine and cloying, but the elegance and purity of the picture shines through.

It runs until 24 January and is free. Go see it.

Comments

  1. Went to see the exhibition yesterday & was completely blown away by the scenes from such a bygone era. The poverty displayed in the images was humbling & really brought home how privileged we are in this day & age. Some of them looked as though they could have been taken in the 1930’s never mind only 40 short years ago.

    What was amazing though was to see the pleasure people took in their simple existence, portrayed through the wide smiles & laughter on the faces looking back at the camera lens.

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