Exhibitions

JOURNEY TO EDEN @ DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY

6 May - 12 May 2024

Events

MARRIAGE (IN)EQUALITY IN UKRAINE. Screening and a panel discussion

9 May 2024

Events

Casey Orr artist talk and SEPN North West meet-up

18 May 2024

Events

Poetry reading: Coast to Coast to Coast

11 May 2024

Exhibitions

National Pavilion of Ukraine @ Venice Biennale

20 April - 24 November 2024

Exhibitions

Open Source 28: Sam Patton – Room to Breathe @ Digital Window Gallery

10 April - 18 May 2024

Exhibitions

Forward, Together @ Wigan & Leigh Archives, Leigh Town Hall

23 March - 28 September 2024

Exhibitions

As She Likes It: Christine Beckett @ The Rainbow Tea Rooms, Chester

1 March - 30 June 2024

Exhibitions

Shifting Horizons @ Digital Window Gallery

27 March - 31 March 2024

PLATFORM: ISSUE 6

26 March 2024

Past Events

Saturday Town: Launch Event

10 April 2024

Exhibitions

Saturday Town

11 April - 18 May 2024

Past Events

PLATFORM: ZINE LAUNCH EVENT

21 March 2024

Home. Ukrainian Photography, UK Words: Tour

4 March - 28 February 2025

Exhibitions

Home: Ukrainian Photography, UK Words @ New Adelphi

4 March - 8 March 2024

Past Events

CREATIVE SOCIAL: IN THE ABSENCE OF FORMAL GROUND

2 March 2024

Exhibitions

We Feed The UK @ Exterior Walls

8 February - 31 March 2024

Past Events

Contrail Cirrus: the impact of aviation on climate change

7 March 2024

Exhibitions

Tree Story @ Liverpool ONE

16 February - 1 May 2024

Open Source #27: Saffron Lily – In The Absence of Formal Ground @ Digital Window Gallery

6 February - 31 March 2024

Past Events

Contemporary Photography from Ukraine: Symposium @University of Salford

4 March - 5 March 2024

Past Events

Is Anybody Listening? Symposium: Commissioning and Collecting Socially Engaged Photography

29 February 2024

Past Events

Different approaches: Artists working with scientists

15 February 2024

Past Events

LOOK Climate Lab 2024: All Events

18 January 2024

Exhibitions

Diesel & Dust @ Digital Window Gallery

18 January - 31 March 2024

Events

Tree Walks Of Sefton Park with Andrea Ku

21 January 2024

Past Events

Artists Remake the World by Vid Simoniti: Book Launch

31 January 2024

Past Events

Shift Liverpool Open Meeting

6 February 2024

Past Events

We Feed The UK Launch and LOOK Climate Lab 2024 Celebration

8 February 2024

Past Events

Cyanotype workshop with Melanie King

17 February 2024

Past Events

End of Empire: artist talk and discussion

22 February 2024

Past Events

Book Launch: What The Mine Gives, The Mine Takes

24 February 2024

Past Events

Local ecology in the post-industrial era: open discussion

14 March 2024

Past Events

Waterlands: creative writing workshop

23 March 2024

Past Events

Plant a seed. Seed sow and in conversation with Plot2Plate

16 March 2024

Past Events

Erosion: panel discussion

9 March 2024

Past Events

Waterlands: an evening of poetry and photographs

23 March 2024

Past Events

Force For Nature Exhibition

27 March - 28 March 2024

Voices of Nature: Interactive Performances

28 March 2024

Past Events

Sum of All Parts: Symposium

27 February 2024

Exhibitions Main Exhibition

LOOK Climate Lab 2024

18 January - 31 March 2024

Past Events

MA Socially engaged photography Open Day event

1 February 2023

Past Events

Tish: Special screening and Q&A

13 December 2023

Past Events

Book Launch: A Look At A New Perspective

23 November 2023

Past Events

Community workshops @ Ellesmere Port Library

6 November - 5 February 2024

Past Events

Book Launch: ‘544m’ By Kevin Crooks

30 November 2023

Past Exhibitions

Bernice Mulenga @ Open Eye Gallery Atrium Space

17 November - 17 December 2023

Past Events

Bernice Mulenga: Artist Talk

18 November 2023

Past Exhibitions

Local Roots @ The Atkinson

14 October 2023

Exhibitions

Community @ Ellesmere Port Library

26 October - 11 April 2024

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Image by Rob Battersby
Image by Rob Battersby
Image by Rob Battersby

A Place of Our Own: Review of Suzanne St Clare and Chester Traders

Currently on display at Open Eye Gallery is A Place of Our Own, an exhibition of three socially engaged photography practices focusing on local stories of people across the North West. Although there are three different projects on three different places, a common thread runs through each: these projects showcase a celebration of local heritage while leaving room to acknowledge the growth necessary for the much-needed redevelopment of each local area. 

One project in particular, by photographer Suzanne St Clare, was created with select Chester Rows traders for two and a half years as part of her Picturing High Streets commission in partnership with Open Eye Gallery. This project developed connections to understand and portray the individual histories of these businesses and the challenges they may face while operating in the Chester Rows. The Chester Rows are found on Watergate Street, Bridge Street and Eastgate Street in the heart of Chester and are the most extensive surviving examples of a medieval two-tier compound of shops in Europe. Today, the multitude of traders selling their wares are continuing in the tradition of an expansive, rich history of 700 years of traders in the Chester Rows. You can find restaurants, independent shops and cafes lining the Rows on the ground and covered higher level, hence why they are called the ‘Rows’. As a popular tourist attraction, no visit to Chester is complete without walking by the Chester Rows and pausing to admire the unique Tudor revival architecture or to window-shop. 

St Clare captured stylised portraits of the participating businesspeople in their shops, and also provided participants disposable film cameras with the purpose of documenting their everyday life. In the exhibition, the portraits of the traders are paired with quotes and audio-visual elements installed nearby, showcasing a slideshow of the photographs the traders took alongside audio of them describing their approach to this socially engaged practice. 

St Clare says about the project:The traders have embraced the photographic challenges that were at times out of their comfort zones, and at the end of this project we feel we have created both an authentic and creative representation of their working lives and experiences”. What does socially engaged photographic practice have to offer independent traders in the Chester Rows? On the surface, it does not seem like there is much to be offered – after all, one is artistic practice, and the other is business. But if we look deeper at the practice of doing business, and the practice of making art, we begin to find similarities. First, generally speaking, it takes creativity to succeed in business. Businesses have to think ‘outside the box’ in order to survive the present cost of living crisis, and this act is an exercise of creativity. More obviously, partnering with a socially engaged photographer is creative action for businesses: these businesspeople were, as St Clare stated, taken out of their comfort zones and asked to represent themselves and their businesses through a photographic lens. 

Overall, what does it mean to offer businesses an opportunity to creatively represent themselves to the general public through photographic practice? Perhaps it is through seeing yourself or your business in a new way that you begin to understand yourself, your trade, and the world better. Perhaps it is through creative expression that we can begin to work through what are seen as unsolvable problems, leading us to begin to see such problems in a different light. According to St Clare, the overarching expression from the traders about the power of this socially engaged practice was having the opportunity and platform to tell their stories.  

The connection these businesses have to Chester can be felt through the chosen photographs of several businesspeople in front of their wares. One portrait in particular is of Niki Davies, the owner of the Chester Health Store, sledgehammer in hand, wearing a shirt with a cheeky definition of ‘warrior’. Her quote printed underneath her portrait explains her struggle to refurbish her shop’s space in the Chester Rows, literally taking a sledgehammer to the plasterboard walls to make way for her business. Likewise, this is a portrait of a woman in the male-dominated field of business styling herself as a warrior. What does it mean to represent a portrait of yourself as a warrior businessperson, a woman among men, with heavy weaponry in hand? How would this sort of imagery aid in re-reimaging yourself as a business owner? These are the sorts of connections which speak to the power of socially engaged art, and these are the sorts of connections St Clare has facilitated between businesses and their place of operation in Chester.

St Clare herself has a personal connection to the Chester Rows: as a child, she would be dropped off to wander Watergate Street or Bridge Street, admiring these distinctive buildings running through the heart of Chester. Some of the businesses she saw as a child might still be in operation, while others may have moved on. What will Chester Rows’ traders and their businesses look like in a hundred years’ time? St Clare, through her socially engaged practice, has helped capture a specific moment in time in the long history of these shops in Chester. 

A Place of Our Own is on free display at Open Eye Gallery until 22 December.

Text: Lauren Stephens. Lauren Stephens is Philosopher in Residence at Open Eye Gallery and a PhD student in Philosophy of Art at the University of Liverpool.

Images: Rob Battersby

 

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