Navigating the dynamics of often complex, modern relationships, Open Eye’s recent exhibition continues their commitment to work with a minimum of 80% artists in 2019 who are women or from a gender minority. Kinship presents projects from seven female photographers, each addressing traditional ideas of relationships through distinctly unique styles of image capture: images of friends, families, partners, generations, lovers.
There is much to be said for the journey laid out for the visitor throughout the gallery space. Clever curatorial decisions allow you to melt gently into the exhibition – a feeling somewhat unexpected when confronted with a theme that could have chosen a heavy handed, identity politics shaped route. Opening gently with the touching story of two best friends, the exhibition champions a project in collaboration with Northwood Golden Years group in Kirkby, by filmmaker Jemma O’Brien and photographer Tony Mallon. Part of the HOP (Happy Older People) initiative sweeping across Merseyside, the outcome is a short film which captures the intimacy of two women who have lived on the same street for 58 years, and been best friends for six decades.
A less emotional, but intellectual and funny bone-stimulating response can be drawn from Pixy Liao’s work (main image). In the series ‘Experimental Relationship’, Liao presents her relationship with a younger Japanese man, as a mature Chinese-born woman. Her playful portraits of the pair together subvert the traditional gender roles of heterosexual relationships, inverting the balance of sex and power whilst reframing our western view of Asian domesticity.
Moving into the second gallery space, the heart jilts again. Three photographers capture three very different stories of family; new life, death and existence. Lydia Goldblatt’s photos of her father in ‘Still Here’ follow his (and her mother’s) experiences of living with dementia during the last years of his life, whilst ‘One Day Young’ by Jenny Lewis sees women captured with their newborn children on the very first day of their lives together at home, each parent-child duo living just a bike ride from the artist’s Hackney flat.
Perhaps the most powerful photo series is Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Family’ (1994), displayed alongside ‘In This Place’, in which she revisits her nieces and nephews 20 years after the originals. Growing up on an estate in Stirling, the images reveal a lack of opportunity afforded her family as children, and again two decades later, history repeats itself with a new generation. Documenting familial relationships against the backdrop of urban displacement and inequality, Mitchell’s work is striking, also for the pride, determination and hope that passes from generation to generation. The film interlinking the images and filling in the gaps is a brilliant addition.
Kinship is a deeply personal collection of intimate portraits, offering a spectrum of styles from the photographer-as-voyeur (Johanna Heldebro) to the photographer-as-subject (Pixy Liao), and succeeds in telling a stories both heartfelt and tragic.
Kinship was part of Open Eye’s 2019 season.
Sinéad Nunes is a writer, editor and arts professional based in Liverpool. She is Merseyside Regional Editor for Corridor 8.