Exhibitions

VR: Wirral Hospitals’ School and MaxLiteracy Award

10 June - 3 September 2021

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Return To Nature

30 July 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

VR: First Light New Northern Graduates Exhibition

22 May - 4 July 2021

Exhibitions

We Are Nature

30 July - 14 August 2021

Exhibitions

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival — Jessica El Mal: Grounds For Concern

16 July - 15 August 2021

Exhibitions

Digital Window Gallery: Who We Are

8 July - 31 July 2021

Exhibitions Main Exhibition

Whose Land Is It?

8 July - 19 September 2021

Exhibitions

VR Student Exhibitions: UCEN

9 June - 13 June 2021

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VR Student Exhibitions: Youth Culture by Whitby High School

23 June - 27 June 2021

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VR Student Exhibitions: Arc with Hugh Baird

16 June - 20 June 2021

Past Events

First Light: Photography Writing Now – Tilt Launch Party

9 July 2021

Past Events

OPEN ROOMS #14: Separated Together

24 June 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Student Exhibitions: Whitby High School

23 June - 27 June 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Student Exhibitions: UCEN

9 June - 13 June 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Student Exhibitions: Arc

16 June - 20 June 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Digital Window Gallery: HOMETOWNS

10 June 2021

Exhibitions Main Exhibition

Digital Window Gallery: Postcards from us x

10 June - 20 June 2021

LightNight 2021: Play

21 May 2021

Heavy Gardening Art Trail Photowalk

21 May 2021

OPEN ROOMS #13: A BALKAN JOURNEY WITH CHRIS LESLIE

17 June 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

First Light New Northern Graduates Exhibition

22 May 2021

Past Events

Open Eye Gallery book club presents: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

3 June 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Interior Tension

22 June 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Networked Beings

8 June 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Things Are Strange

25 May 2021

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OPEN ROOMS #12: INDEPENDENTS BIENNIAL

6 May 2021

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Liverpool Biennial 2021: The Stomach and the Port

19 May - 6 June 2021

Picturing England’s High Streets: Prescot

7 April 2021

Picturing England’s High Street: Chester

7 April 2021

Exhibitions

Reclaim The City: Suzanne St Clare

8 April 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Parallel Histories

11 May 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: After Nature

27 April 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Unearthly Matter

13 April 2021

Exhibitions

Hanging out: Interviews

23 March - 5 April 2021

Exhibitions

Digital Window Gallery: Independents Biennial

18 March - 6 June 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight: Corrupted Archives

30 March 2021

Past Events

First Light Spotlight – Connecting new photography with writing

16 March 2021

Past Events

OPEN ROOMS #11: ON THE CORNERS OF ARGYLE AND GLENWOOD – PHOTOBOOK IN COLLABORATION

11 March 2021

Freelance Photographer in Residence Position

23 February 2021

Family Page

23 February 2021

About Alternative Lens

23 February 2021

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Introducing Energy House

23 February 2021

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Open Rooms #10: All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go

25 February 2021

The Course

12 February 2021

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PLATFORM ISSUE 3: HOPE

12 February 2021

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OPEN CALL: THE STORY OF LIVERPOOL THROUGH ITS TREES

1 January - 30 April 2021

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OPEN CALL: HOMETOWNS

11 February - 31 March 2021

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WHAT WE DO IN LOCKDOWN

5 January 2021

HYPERTEXT: Books Beyond Bars – Felix McNulty in conversation with Sarah Jane Baker

28 November 2020

HYPERTEXT: Ruth White – The Role of the Photobook in Representing the British Working Classes

28 November 2020

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A Spotlight on… Tony Mallon

Creative Practitioner Alys Kay interviews Tony Mallon (Photographic Artist), discussing his approach to socially engaged Art.

 

AK: Tell me about yourself & your practice:

I’m a Photographic Artist & Educator born & based in Liverpool.

For me the biggest motivator & passion in my creative work is tackling social inequality & in particular access & participation for all! I was brought up in Kirkby, Merseyside & I remember when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in May 1979. Arriving at Downing Street she said, paraphrasing the Prayer of Saint Francis

Where there is discord, may we bring harmony;
Where there is error, may we bring truth;
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith;
And where there is despair, may we bring hope

 

For me I could only see discord, error, doubt & despair! So I became aware from an early age of the injustices which follow & shape you! 

I left Kirkby to study art at 19. It was during this period that my passion for making art accessible & available to as diverse an audience as possible was formed. I soon realised this could be achieved by collaborating on producing art in the public realm. I wasn’t interested in art being viewed in conventional gallery spaces.

The path I took at that time was called Community Art. Over the last 23 years, with a background as a visual artist, I have collaborated with many marginalised groups including the homeless, offenders (including ex-offenders), refugees, people with drug & alcohol addiction, individuals with complex mental health needs & the elderly. Clients have included Asylum Link, Emmaus UK, Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust Hospital, Liverpool Waves of Hope, METAL, Open Eye Gallery, Riverside Housing, Save the Children & The Salvation Army.

My socially engaged practice has involved collaborating with these diverse groups on producing sculptures in a park, large scale public realm murals to producing issue-based documentaries. I got into photography 8 years ago, for me it felt as though I was using the moving image a lot, and I wanted to slow things down. Also it’s the ideal medium to engage people with – it’s so accessible now.

Since 2012 I’ve also been employed by the national charity Crisis as a Photography Tutor & I deliver weekly sessions at various homeless shelters in Merseyside.

AK: Was there a pivotal moment that moved you into photography? And what led to that?

Prior to moving into photography I was using video & it felt like it was all starting to blur. So much was trying to be said that nothing was being said. I think moving solely into photography allowed time for a pause, to reflect & for increase clarity. It’s also a powerful medium to engage people in raising awareness on issues, questioning, provoking discussion, debate & even change.

 

AK: Can you give a specific example of how you work with a group?

In November 2016 I started working with the Golden Years group, who are based at Northwood Community Centre in Kirkby. A group of mainly women in their 70’s & 80’s. This was part of Open Eye’s Culture Shifts Programme.

As I said Kirkby was the place I grew up so I was interested to come back after 25 years, to see what changes there were, whether there were any familiar faces & places.

For me the main focus of socially engaged art is that it has to be meaningful, it cannot be seen as tokenism – an engagement tick box. The only way you can make it meaningful is through relationships & trust, they have to be developed over time. You as a facilitator need to understand who the group are & what their needs are. The power should always lie with the group!

So when I first started working with the Golden Years group, we had weekly sessions, but we did not get a camera out until at least 6 months into the project. It was an opportunity first and foremost to find out about each other & to get to know each other. Then from those discussions it became apparent the sort of issues/concerns the group would like to focus on & make the focus of their work.

Apart from one member of the group Dolly, she had been given a box camera by her dad, no one else had a particular interest in photography. This time was also used to show examples of my work to the group but also of other photographers – I think this was partly to show the power of the medium & also what can be achieved. The group stated it was very informative, educational & it opened their eyes to the possibilities.

Then the camera!

We were fortunate that this project, Winds of Change gave the group access to a rich archive of photographic images of Kirkby during the second world war which belonged to the local authority. At this time Kirkby was a base for a munitions factory, which had an 18,000 majority female work force. So the group were really interested in exploring this archive & incorporating it into their work. Then the group responded to those images to produce work that was about them, their lives & the activities they participate in at the community centre. The centre at one point was going to close down & the majority of the women in the Golden Years group, who are community activists prevented this from happening. It was this ‘activism’ which was also explored as the group believed their voice wasn’t heard on issues that mattered to them in the area. The group felt this was an opportunity finally for their voice to be heard.

For example, for 10 years there was a chipboard manufacturer close to where they live. From the beginning there were many health and safety problems, particularly pollution. The group demonstrated outside the factory for it to be closed down. The factory eventually closed but not because of their objections, it was because there was a fire & two fatalities.

Dolly aged 89 years, who lived near to the factory would get out a photograph and say: “this was taken from my garden”. From Dolly’s house she could see the chimney from the factory and she photographed it several times over the 10 years it was in operation. So Dolly’s pictures of the factory chimney were another starting point for the discussions. Also the group wanted the project to be about this factory as a polluter. Even though the factory had been closed down for 6 years, they thought: “at last our voice is being heard and we have an opportunity to tell our story.”

AK: I can see how that would be really motivating for the group

Yeah, but that only comes out through discussion, it’s not me going in there with an agenda and saying: ‘this is what we are doing, this is what this is going to be about’. It’s really listening to their needs. Also the group were involved in every stage of the project including selecting the images for the exhibition. 

This contributed hugely to the group taking ownership of the project & providing the motivation to do that.

AK: So 6 months of getting to know each other, what does that look like in a session?

Coming together to share stories. I encouraged the group to bring in photographs from their family albums. This was used as a starting point to find out more about each other. We were also fortunate that the centre had a projector & large screen to present work from myself & other documentary photographers. This was used to provoke, stimulate discussion, establish & explore the group’s needs.

What happened was that people started to realise & get a sense of what makes a good photograph. It would be things like shown good & bad examples of composition & how that is important & can enhance your picture. 

AK: So it’s always a discussion of some aspect of photography?

Yes. Whether that’s visiting the Kirkby Archival Unit to exploring images from Kirkby’s past to learning about how composition/framing can enhance your photo. Presenting examples of documentary photography stimulated the group & aided discussion.

AK: What have you learned over the last 3 years? 

For me there are two things that underpin my work & have done since the beginning. Access & participation for all!

Also with socially engaged art, any kind of engagement aspect, it has always been said that process is the the most important, it didn’t necessarily matter what the outcome/artwork was like. The artistic quality did not matter because it was the process that was important. The journey. I thought: “No that is not right” – I have always found this patronising. For me the end product can & will stand up on its own merit, in comparison to other work that is not socially engaged. Of course the journey is important, but so is the end!

I was going to say what I’ve learned but I already know this – is how people can thrive when given the opportunity & surprise themselves of what they are capable of achieving!

AK: How would you describe the group’s emotional state after having been given an opportunity to express themselves?

Relief & joy! I felt that the group had learned about the power of photography to tell a story/stories & that they were more confident in realising this. The opportunity to express themselves allowed their stories/concerns to be heard & the group felt empowered. They had got to the stage were they could easily say “well I don’t think, that works with that” & seeing beyond an isolated image but seeing a sequence of images as a narrative, a story etc.

AK: I definitely experienced that here today [in Kirby with the Golden Years group], because I asked Dolly: “what is your favorite image?” and she told me about the process of making the image, the expression, how it was framed & arranged the scene.

That’s wonderful to hear & even more so that she has the confidence to state this to a stranger.

AK: What are the main challenges of working in issue-based work with older people in a community centre?

It doesn’t relate specifically to older people however, working with groups with mixed abilities & needs can be challenging & it’s been able to balance those, which potentially can make the project a success.

The sessions need to be engaging, fun (if appropriate) & relevant to the group. Hopefully participants come away thinking “that was interesting, I have learned something’’. That is the challenge, they need to get something from it for them to want to be there for 2 hours every week.

If exploring issue-based work, then this has to be identified & driven by the group. 

As part of the We are Kirkby project one of the challenges was to re-locate seven of the sessions to Kirkby Market rather than at the community centre so the group could take portrait shots of shoppers. As the group are mainly in their 70’s & 80’s & several members have mobility/health issues this was taking some them out of their comfort zone. However with the support of the Kirkby Market Management staff, the desire from the group & the group deciding to organize these sessions over the summer months, the group embraced the challenge & grew in confidence working within this space & engaging with shoppers.

AK: What are some specific things you have done to engage people who are not particularly interested in photography?

With my work with Crisis & engaging homeless people, developing a relationship/trust is key. Just having a chat! I introduce the photography side slowly via presenting photobooks, magazines, & prints. This will usually lead to the start of a conversation/discussion. This has to be done sensitively, in a relaxed & informal environment with no pressure to participate & respectful of those who are not interested.

AK: How do you keep it interesting and fun?

Banter, tea & biscuits!

Members of the Golden Years Group have lived in Kirkby for over 50 years, and have seen the changes, then to see those changes presented as a photograph makes it really interesting for the group & it sparks off memories and stories. We had access to archival imagery from the local authority & in particular from two new members of the group who have been documenting Kirkby for over 20 years.

AK: What do you think that other people in the socially engaged practitioner network should know, about collaboration, co-authorship and participation?

I see my role as a facilitator & the key to this is building relationships & trust, so that the members of the group can be open & honest about what they think & want. I would offer guidance for that to happen. I feel it’s important to be an active listener & have genuine empathy.

Socially engaged art should:

Promote & celebrate inclusion & diversity.

Provide opportunities to collaborate with people who may not otherwise engage in the arts.

Encourages conversations around political/social issues.

Give people/communities a voice.

 

I think the power of socially engaged art is rooted deep within the people that you are collaborating with and from that magic can happen.

AK: is there anything else I haven’t asked you about that you would like to share…

Over the next five years I feel the outcome of the 2019 General election has meant that socially engaged art will need to play an even more vital role in the lives of marginlised groups/communities.

 

Web: www.digitintherib.co.uk

Twitter: @digitintherib

Instagram: @digit_in_the_rib

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