DYCP Diaries #2 - Liverpool Visit

In October 2023 I took a trip to Liverpool to see a series of exhibitions in the city. Having previously lived in the North West, I frequently jumped on the train to see the vast selection of museums and galleries in Liverpool, but it’s been a while since I’ve been able to travel the full distance of the M62 to see the culture Merseyside has to offer.

Photie Man: 50 Years of Tom Wood

The first stop was the Photie Man: 50 Years of Tom Wood exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery. Photie Man was in the temporary exhibition space of the gallery, spanning various rooms with exceptionally high ceilings, the work of Tom Wood filled the walls beautifully. 

I was impressed with the scale of the work on show, it was a true retrospective exhibition spanning 5 decades. For such a vast space, I was interested to see how the work would be displayed. Without forgetting of course that Tom Wood has 50 years worth of photographs, the exhibition was the perfect amount of images, not too overwhelming or in any way sparse, but perfectly judged. Photie Man showcased exceptional curatorial techniques, from the use of contrasting frames, different mount sizing, and wall spacing, to displaying the work in chronological order and grouping images in themes. 

I took particular attention to the finer details of the exhibition, trying to look past the selection of photographs on display, and instead seeing how they were displayed and attached to the walls. Each frame was securely attached using brackets, screws or hook and plates, and the lack of Invigilator in the exhibition proved to me how secure the frames were. The exhibitions I have curated so far only have a very small budget so it’s a little harder to ensure that specialist secure frames are used, however there are ways around this that I will bear in mind for the future.

The evaluation section at the end of the exhibition was simple yet effective. I particularly enjoyed the camera display, which featured a collection of the cameras that Tom Wood used throughout his career. It was insightful to other photographers who might be curious as to what photographs were taken on what camera, and educational to those who are not photographers themselves. There was a section featuring Tom Wood’s photo books displayed in a glass cabinet, and a copy of the exhibition catalogue was available to be looked through before purchasing in the shop.

My favourite part of the evaluation though, was the opportunity to share the names of people featured in the exhibition. I’ve seen this done before with a body of work by a photographer from the 1980s, who was trying to locate the people featured in order to interview them 40 years on. Here Tom Wood was doing a similar thing. As so many people were featured in the photographs from the Liverpool area, it’s highly likely that visitors could see some familiar faces. There was an iPad at the end of the exhibition in order to document the findings. As well as this, I noticed a few comments on the post-it note wall related to knowing people in the photographs.

The whole exhibition felt nostalgic, and even though I’m not from any of the areas photographed and wasn’t born until the mid 90s, I felt like I’ve seen these images and moments in history through family members photo albums and shared memories. A highly recommended exhibition.

Open Eye Gallery

The next stop was the Open Eye Gallery, one of the only dedicated photography galleries in the North of England and one of my personal favourites. I didn’t actually check in advance to see what exhibitions were on, so this was a total surprise visit.

The Open Eye Gallery has 3 exhibition spaces, which usually host 3 separate exhibitions, but this time the whole gallery was for A Place of Our Own, a group exhibition featuring 2 Historic England Picturing High Streets projects and another council funded project, all of which are part of the Next Generations Neighbourhood programme initiative. The exhibitions flowed nicely throughout the exhibition spaces and never felt disjointed.

The first exhibition was the work of photographer Tony Mallon, who has been one of the Picturing England’s High Streets photographers since 2021. This exhibition featured work by the local photography group he set up in Prescot to reimagine the high street and create a contemporary portrait of the area. I enjoyed the display of the large-scale photographic prints on the wall, and the artwork labels placed at the bottom in the same order, it encouraged the viewer to look in more detail to find which description matched what photograph.

Interestingly this is only one part of the exhibition, the second taking place in Prescot itself. This has been described as a cross-site exhibition and provides more opportunity for the people of Prescot to see the images that were taken in their community, a more accessible exhibition construct.

There were a couple of points for further engagement in the ground floor gallery, the first being copies of the Art in Liverpool newspaper and a craft activity where visitors could make their own postcard using collage.

Moving onto the second gallery space, this featured the work of Suzanne St Clare, who has been photographing Traders in Chester since 2021. It featured portraits of traders alongside short films, the stories were interesting but found I was least engaged by this project from a curatorial perspective; I would have liked to have seen the work being presented in a more ambitious way.

The final part of the exhibition was in the upstairs gallery space, it displayed the work that Lucy Hunter has been doing with young people from the Walton Youth and Community Project. Although the quality of the work was not of the highest standard, this exhibition was much more engaging and experimental in terms of display technique. The use of a large vinyl photograph overlaid with smaller printed frames is a contemporary approach that encourages the visitor to really engage with the individual photographs and the meaning behind them. The exhibition also included a selection of framed prints displayed in an untraditional layout and 4 A0 sized poster prints, both of which provided interesting methods of display.

When leaving the Open Eye Gallery there was an exhibition on the exterior wall of the building, which actually ended up being my favourite of the works on display at the gallery. The exhibition features large scale portraits by Ciara Leeming, Tadhg Devlin and Sam Ivin, and was a much more ambitious exhibition, with great intent behind the imagery and aesthetically pleasing photography. Exhibiting on the outside of the building ensures that the work can be seen by a larger audience and not just those interested in photography or attending an exhibition in a gallery setting. The Open Eye Gallery often work with socially engaged photographers, but it is very much a recent initiative that they are putting on exhibitions in places outside of their traditional gallery space, which is hugely important when portraying this socially engaged message in order for people to see photography who wouldn’t usually step into a gallery.


Final stop was FACT, a multidisciplinary arts space and cinema. The exhibition space had just changed, so I was able to see the incredible Jenkin van Zyl’s Surrender.

The work of Jenkin van Zyl had somehow gone unbeknownst to me beforehand, so it was an incredible surprise seeing such a promising young artist gaining an opportunity to exhibit in such a space. Jenkin’s work was extraordinary, starting from the foyer where small details from the film are displayed in an installation. Visitors then follow a narrow corridor with red lighting into another exhibition space, you are greeted by a large scale silver blow up creature where inside you can watch the film Surrender, which is played on a loop. Even though this was not a photographic exhibition, it was still incredible to see what can be done with an exhibition space to make it unique towards the work providing a better visitor experience and impact.

I had planned to go to Tate Liverpool too, but it was closed for redevelopment. I will definitely be returning to Liverpool in the new year when exhibitions change, as it really feels like a photography hub for the north at the moment.

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