‘What is it about a city that shapes us?’
A plaintive question, put forward by the text accompanying the Museum of Liverpool’s exhibition as part of the citywide Look/17 photography festival, and one that is answered beguilingly across the collections presented both at the museum itself and in the nearby Open Eye Gallery, through an extensive examination of the human and cultural link between Liverpool and Hong Kong.
Throughout Ho Fan’s offering, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ is presented in a Hong Kong context, the urban landscape is presented both as a cradle to shelter the human subjects and as a boundary imposed on them. Elsewhere in the Museum, through the selections from the Open Eye Gallery archive, the connection between the two cities is candidly displayed on a societal – Martin Parr’s ‘Chung Wah Supermarket, Liverpool’ (1986) – and architectural level – Jamie Lau’s ‘Red, Green, Black’ (2014).
The exhibition Culture Shifts: Global in the Open Eye Gallery is more orderly than the museum’s meander, and the viewer is invited to examine the works therein divided by practitioner.
Luke Ching, with his innovative approach to one of the grand old traditions of photography-Ching converted an entire room in Liverpool’s Titanic Hotel into a pinhole camera – the artist has achieved a juxtaposition between the fleeting nature of life in an urban setting and the immobility of the medium. The passage of time is necessarily not an easy thing to discuss in still image, but in viewing Liverpool’s industrial past from the perspective of it’s commercially weighted, luxurious present, Ching has managed just that. The undeniable tones of voyeurism and surveillance also speak well to a society obsessed with self-representation.
Wo Bik Wong is another artist that has captured something of the moment of transition in a static medium, in this instance Wong has playfully included shifting elements of nature within her portrayal of empty buildings. While this series contains no human figures there is a contrast made between delicate and mutable elements such as shadows, plant life and moving traffic and the permanence of man-made structures. The success of the series then, is to focus on buildings that are themselves transient – most on the verge of being knocked down – extending the themes of the collection to cover each of the subjects included.
Upstairs, Derek Man’s series appears to be the most politically weighted, the stated aim of which is to examine the ‘tension between the human need for culture and the commercial need for growth’. A striking collection that shifts in perspective from skylines that take in the expanse of the urban environment to claustrophobic views of the living conditions of the people. Viewing the work, it is difficult to avoid drawing comparisons to a contemporary British society that has taken to using a perceived lack of space as the foundation for an increasingly xenophobic world-view.
The abiding sense across the two exhibitions is one of universality, of shared and complimentary perspectives and experiences that belie the distance between the two grand old port cities.
Jack Roe is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Liverpool.
LOOK/17: Liverpool International Photography Festival – 7 April – 14 May 2017
Culture shifts: Global, Open Eye Gallery – 7 April – 18 June 2017
Image: Wo Bik Wong, Port of Liverpool building in Continuous View, 2017
Photo credit: Rob Battersby