Men walking down a catwalk wearing parka coats

It's not grim, it's glam up North

Posted on 09 January 2017

The North is rich - culturally rich. And so, to kick off their 40th anniversary year, Arts Council supported Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool are celebrating in style with a new exhibition that showcases the North’s influence on fashion and visual culture.

Two women in Liverpool with hair in rollers
Photograph by Alice Hawkins, Derrin Crawford & Demi-Leigh Cruickshank in 'The Liver Birds' LOVE magazine, Liverpool, 2012

North: Identity, Photography, Fashion, which opened on Friday, is co-curated by Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray and explores what makes the North of England such a creative, diverse and inspiring place to live for artists, and all people. Those contributing include Turner-prize winners Mark Leckey and Jeremy Deller alongside Yorkshire-born contemporary fashion designers Alasdair McLennan and David Sims.

Man wearing parka and dungarees
Photograph by Jason Evans, Untitled, Manchester, 1997 - 02

Running until 19 March, the exhibition takes us on a journey from the Mass Observation movement in the 1930s up to the present day. It explores the North through documentary photography, fashion editorials, video footage, garments (including, of course, a ‘parka’ coat) and even some iconic adidas trainers, a staple of Northern style.

I think there’s room to do complex, challenging shows that feature a mix of photography, garments and art. I know there’s a vogue for the blockbuster or retrospective at the moment, but shows like North – ones that say something about society or culture – are important. Lou Stoppard, co-curator

Two boys standing against a wall wearing sports clothes
Photograph by Stephen McCoy, From the series Skelmersdale, 1984

Open Eye officially opened in 1977 as one of the UK’s first leading galleries in photography and visual culture. Arts Council England has funded the gallery’s project-based activities since its opening, and has provided core funding since the 2000s. In addition, the gallery received capital investment in 2011 for its new building on the city’s waterfront.

Simon Mellor, the Arts Council’s Deputy Chief Executive, who was in Liverpool to speak at the opening event not only praised the exhibition - stating that it deserved to be seen by “many, many people” - but also the wider visual arts scene in Liverpool.

I’m repeatedly struck by the vitality of the visual arts scene here – nationally and internationally connected – but with a fierce commitment to engaging actively with local artists and audiences. Simon Mellor, Deputy Chief Executive, Arts and Culture, Arts Council England

Woman wearing puffa jacket and jeans
Photograph by Jason Evans, Untitled, Manchester, 1997 - 01

The time and place of #North (as it’s being referred to on social media) seems more than appropriate when the debate is still very much current about the powerhouse of the North, of which culture is an essential aspect.

Open Eye emerged as part of an organisation called the Merseyside Visual Communications Unit (MCVU) whose mission was to “make more people aware of the many positive ways in which film, photography, video and sound recording can be used in a social, cultural and educative context.”

Open Eye’s 40th birthday is a great opportunity to celebrate the rich cultural history of this part of the country. A spotlight shines on the North – and Open Eye is embracing it.

Catch North: Identity, Photography, Fashion at Open Eye Gallery until 19 March.

Boy wearing Calvin Kleins
Photograph by Alasdair McLellan, Boy at the Saint Leger Fair, Doncaster, September 2005

Want to find out more?

Interested in finding out more about Open Eye Gallery? Visit their website or follow them on Twitter @OpenEyeGallery.

Follow us @ace_thenorth for all the latest news from the Arts Council in the North.

Image captions
Top left to bottom right: 1. Phoenix Dance at Yorkshire Festival 2016. Photo © Yorkshire Festival 2. The Piece Hall, Halifax © Paul White 3. The Tree, The Caterpillar and The Butterfly (c) Donna-Lisa Healey 4. In Between Time 2015 - 'NightWalks with Teenagers'. Photo © Paul Blakemore 5. People wearing 3d glasses looking at Carfest car 6. Imbalance Joli Vyann 7. Kamal Kaan (c) Maria Spadafora 8. Liverpool Library on National Libraries Day 2016 © Graham Lucas Commons