Running until September 17th, Open Eye Gallery presents a new photography exhibition, OPEN 3: AFFECTING CHANGE. With the photographers involved working alongside various Liverpool collectives, the exhibition explores how tangible societal changes come about in 2017, showing the ethos, day-to-day workings and success of people dedicating themselves to improving the lives of those most disadvantaged.
YETUNDE ADEBIYI produced images with Between the Borders, who publish a zine focusing on supporting refugees and explaining the asylum process. This zine incorporates essays, poems and arts from both UK citizens and people going through the asylum process. Taking inspiration from the much criticised Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, her work is presented in a zine format on the gallery walls, with an accompanying publication.
Meanwhile, DANNY RYDER focuses on the work of News From Nowhere, Liverpool’s much loved, not-for-profit, radical community bookshop. Taking over the gallery’s upstairs space, Danny recreates the bookshop, complete with independent, feminist and children’s literature available to purchase.
We spoke to both artists about their work at the exhibition and radical politics in Liverpool.
With the ever-changing current political climate a hot topic of 2017, change is an apt subject to cover. How has politics affected the world of photography, particularly within Liverpool?
Yetunde Adebiyi: With the current political climate changing so drastically before us; it has never been more important for people to become more informed, realise how they are affected and speak out. From peaceful anti-fascist (AF) protests being usurped by people who literally identify as Nazis, resulting in the death of a AF protester Heather Heyer to Saffiyah Khan calmly confronting EDL supporters in the midst of them berating Muslim women; it’s bewildering to see that around the world given the support, real or imagined, of the those elected, how many people feel comfortable sharing their prejudices now. In Liverpool, however, that is not the case. In recent times so called Nazis and far-right supporters attempting to march in the city are routinely met by an overwhelming amount of opposition from co-ordinated AF groups and members of the community. I think it’s affected photography in an undeniable way. There is a definite need to document these happenings, to tell a truth of the lives that are affected. As people rise up and fight for their rights, it’s not just on professional photojournalists to document this, I think it’s a duty of anyone with a camera to share through social media their unfiltered truth so we can all support and share each other’s fight for equality. So, artists like Danny Ryder (News From Nowhere) who document their experiences at protests and other grassroots movements are key in this political climate.
Danny Ryder: That’s really quite a difficult question to answer; politics has had an effect in a great number of ways. I think it’s more important to ask how photography, and more broadly art as a whole, can be used to affect politics. I think the need for people to engage is paramount; photography allows people to share their experiences of the world with others, whether that’s with a phone on Twitter or a DSLR on the walls of a gallery. Liverpool offers a place for creative, left-wingers like myself to practice amongst like-minded peers; so, the idea must be that we use photography for the powers of good. Without having grandiose delusions of the abilities of any actions, I would say that ultimately the aim is to bring forward progressive agendas.
All of the artists have covered the daily lives of Merseyside community organisations, making true change seem like a reality. Do you think this will make the audience think about the landscape that surrounds them and get involved within the community?
YA: That’s all I can hope. Sometimes, you have to see it to believe it and that’s why I see provoking an emotional response as one of the tenements of photography. Aside from political movements, the groups featured in Affecting Change and many others working within the city and are making a difference and an inspiring change to people’s lives. I think it’s hard not to be moved by the images produced by Libbi Groves (Stick ‘n Step) and Matty Lambert (The UTS Foundation) depicting a small part of service users’ journeys. It’s not solely about donations and going to protests. It’s about being an active part of the community and sharing what you can of your time, your skills and your knowledge.
DR: I think it’s important that we recognise the strength in our own communities; the exhibition is about people who are already working toward social change and the hope is that, ultimately yes, it will make people want to feel proud of their own community and more willing to help each other out. We, the people, do after all hold the power. I think there has long been an aim of trying to split us up as citizens, making us untrusting of our neighbours and closed off to outsiders, coming from a political elite who – without sounding like a conspiracist – would rather we grassed each other up than sticking up for each other when they came knocking.
Also considering a larger national audience, those visiting Liverpool and artists such as Danny Ryder covering the radical bookshop News From Nowhere and Yetunde Adebiyi working with Between The Borders, isn’t this an excellent reflection of the vocal left-wing view of Liverpool? Could you also argue it shows the cultural diversity of the Liverpool community?
YA: With News from Nowhere providing and eclectic range of left-wing and socially conscious literature and Between the Borders working to encourage communication and discourse on migrant experiences, I think it’s fair to say this represents the cultural diversity of Liverpool. The images presented by Jane MacNeil for North Docks Community Group are an important representation of how groups are working within the community to maintain communication between the developers and local inhabitants and businesses, to ensure the area is responsibly regenerated. So, it’s also about representing the independent businesses that make the community diverse.
DR: Personally speaking, News from Nowhere, I feel embodies a place where divisive politics and language doesn’t exist and instead it tries to nurture a community space that is all welcoming. It is in itself a sort of utopia for progressive ideas. Liverpool, is famous for being a friendly city, caring for each other, but we’ve also got a ‘radical’ history when the residents have felt necessary to express their views. I don’t know whether it captures just how diverse Liverpool actually is, while we have a selection of some really good examples, there is so much more going on around the city.
With the Brian Mercer Charitable Trust backing this exhibition, how has the Liverpool community funded and supported the arts, in particular photography?
YA: Open Eye Gallery has been the main port of call for me personally, and all members of the organisation have been supportive creatively. My first interaction with OEG was a meeting with curator Thomas Dukes, who was seeking out early career photographers which definitely imbued me with a feeling that I was on the right path. This exhibition as a whole has cemented my intent with photography and this concept of socially engaged photographic process. Now more then ever is there a need to not be reticent, so the backing from Brian Mercer Trust for this exhibition has been instrumental in helping local voices affecting change be heard.
Open 3: Affecting Change is supported by Brian Mercer Charitable Trust, as part of their mission to help the development of promising young North-West artists working in visual arts. The exhibition runs until 17th September at Open Eye Gallery on Liverpool’s waterfront.
Bido Lito! Members get an exclusive curators insight into the exhibition at a special event on Wednesday 6th September. Sign up here to attend this and other great events.