A new exhibition part of On Record – Untold & Retold will celebrate key figures of black music in Liverpool and their contribution to the foundations of the city’s culture. Curated and photographed by Anthony Wilde, the exhibition is characterised by the photographer’s deftness for capturing moments of change and transition.
Before ANTHONY WILDE started taking photographs four years ago, he knew there was a particular depth to his vision. On an old iPhone 4, he recalls reams of incidental photos scattered throughout the timeline of the camera role. An unassuming collection to the untrained eye; but to his own, the photos revealed themselves as a delicate jigsaw of messages and moments waiting to be connected.
“I’ve always been looking for something that stood out, something extraordinary,” he says over the phone, thinking back to the years before a lens became permanently attached at the hip. “I found something extraordinary in the simplicity [of the photos]. It could be in anything. I always had a way of looking at things different, [so] I always wanted to document, see if there was anything in the moment at all.”
Once a camera was in hand it became an entirely new way of seeing. The camera added an unrushed aspect to his process, new levels of intricacy and momentary energy – equally, an added influence to share his art. “I’m always developing and learning when I pick up the camera, studying the frame. It reveals what happens in a moment,” he replies slowly, considering the magnitude of the subjects and scenes he’s trained his camera on over the last four years. “Not always great or beautiful, but always something worth saying,” he rounds off in an effortlessly profound manner.
It’s these ‘moments’ which Anthony notes – the ability to extract a pristine singular freeze-frame from a life continuously on fast-forward – that have typified his work as a photographer. A process that converts the camera into microscope, the finite details of society gently lit under its backlight. It is a consideration and precision echoed in the creation of his Evolving + Nostalgia zines.
Photo: Jennifer John
Over three issues, the zines have drawn a focus on creative development and emerging voices in a “new generational attitude to change”. The third issue was released back in August and focused on the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the personal, unique stories of those taking a stand.
“Every zine I’ve produced is never what I intended it to be at the beginning. Over the period of me making it, it shifts, evolves and changes,” he says of his usual process of planning and beginning to document. “Within in a few days of me starting the third one, things shifted completely.”
Following the murder of George Floyd in May, a wave of worldwide protest barrelled into the streets of Liverpool. At St George’s Hall, where Anthony spoke at the first of two protests, the atmosphere was charged and committed. Rightly so for city with a strong colonial history and systemic racial tensions stemming from the 1980s, of which embers are still yet to go out. “We were in the midst of a storm,” comments Anthony, “you can sense the impact of everything that’s happening, but you can’t let that grasp a hold of you because it will influence how you document a particular moment.” With the camera in hand he’s committed to playing the narrator rather than director or composer. It’s this careful separation that gives breathing room to his subjects and stories.
The resulting zine confronts the defining narratives of the protests, but it translates the deeply personal responses of each subject. The responses documented in the work are from homogenised, or as simple as black or white. “Every individual had vastly different experience,” replies Anthony. “You can put it under the same umbrella – racism, colonialism, oppression, marginalisation within our communities – but each person is vastly different in their experience. I was learning from a whole array of different people through the whole process of putting it together. I still am.”
Alongside his original photography, the zines have been characterised by Anthony’s unwavering prose. It’s a symbiosis that is staunchly compelling. The words and images seem to combine in a way as if to finish one another’s sentence on the page. Similar to the photography, it’s an attribute that’s revealed through considered process. “I enjoy writing, but it just happens [when writing captions] for the photos. It’s not a case of, ‘I’ve taken a photograph, I must write something about it’. It might sit with me for a few months and eventually I’ll interpret it in the way I see, the way it makes me feel,” he says. “It’s just as important as the image. They’ll work with one another for whoever is viewing it.”
Cliché suggests a picture paints a thousand words, but to Anthony the added context means the message “cuts a lot deeper”, with “more gravity”. “They’re both ingredients to what I’m creating,” he continues. However, there’s never a knee-jerk response to draw out conclusions. “I need to let the image sit with me, also the text. Then, I don’t know when, or how, it’ll come to me. I’ll make sense of it. The whole process is making sense of what I’ve taken.” It’s a process as organic as the subtle frames of existence pulled into view by his camera. “You need to let the photograph sit,” he adds, “then when you look through it again, I see minor details that turn the photo on its head and change the message.”
Photo: Ioan Roberts & Saaf Shaffi, 24 Kitche Street / Pelumi
Next month, Anthony’s work will become more familiar to Liverpool’s consciousness through the Champion One, Champion All! exhibition which will feature as part of On Record – Untold & Retold festival. Similar to his process of mining the density in passing moments of change, the exhibition will display 31 portraits celebrating key figures of black music in Liverpool and the contemporary scene – two strands which form an integral foundation of Liverpool’s past, present and future cultural landscape.
“It’s celebrating people, people in our community,” he says, “and if it wasn’t for these people, the community wouldn’t be as rich as what it is today.”
The exhibition, housed at Museum Of Liverpool, takes in musicians, artists, promoters, venue owners and community facilitators. The diversity of those featured aims to challenge the homogenised view of black music – too often an expansive grouping that denies the individual merit of its intricacies. Equally, one that speaks for the music in a way that is not reflected in the myriad of genres that reside outside of the banner of ‘white music’. In Liverpool alone, it’s a perception that still needs breaking down.
“We’re all so unique and delicate. It’s [about] being able to be the individual, be the person you are without all of the attachments and the bias,” says Anthony. “Trying to categorise, trying to categorise a people. This exhibition will disperse that way of thinking. When you see the images in the exhibition and you hear from the people and what it is that they’re doing, you’ll see this how each individual has made a tremendous contribution.”
In Anthony’s own distinct way, the photos extract 31 moments still in motion, from those who’ve set the foundations, to those who’ve built the city’s future on top. “Black music is the most inclusive genre. It’s inclusive of all melodies. It’s within our culture. It’s within British culture,” he concludes. “It isn’t a colour, it’s culture. It’s more important than ever to put on an exhibition that is highlighting that.”
Photo: Kadeem France / Koj
CHAMPION ONE, CHAMPION ALL!
The sound of this city isn’t defined by one aspect of colour or ethnicity. However, we listen and savour the tones that have contributed to the steeple that has helped engrave an essence in our city’s identity, partnered by those of black heritage and surrounding.
Liverpool breaks tradition and follows only the determined; the determined to understand, the determined to create, the purposeful will be spirited. Music and sounds hand us as people that first ripple in what can be our ocean if we choose to see what has yet been unrecognised. New creators in music are emerging everyday within Liverpool, ethnically together; communicating a dialogue that encourages and unify traditions while emerging sounds make way for the path we are now on. This collection of individuals here inside The Museum Of Liverpool display a sense of feeling, the city has been missing.
This is no doubt a celebration of what we have created and contributed to the centre of where black music has as rich a space as anywhere in the world.
Champion one, champion all.
Photo: Mia Thornton & Rachel Duncan, Go Off, Sis!
Main photo: Kof
Champion One, Champion All! runs at Museum of Liverpool until the end of December.