Originally starting back in 1977, the gallery has gained a well-established name for itself within the photography industry: the Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool
Open Eye Gallery on the Liverpool Waterfront
«The gallery is situated in an area which attracts people from the region and internationally». Based in a modern building nestled alongside some of Liverpool’s historical buildings, initially the gallery was set up with government support, during a time period where shipping in Liverpool was scaling down.
The gallery itself has a history across various venues spread over Liverpool. «Being in operation for over forty years is a testament to the directors and the power of photography itself» conveys Sarah Fisher, Executive Director of Open Eye Gallery. Preliminarily being a venue where people could learn new skills, the gallery has come a long way over the years. «During our initial years of opening, video was starting to be accessible, and we had access to dark rooms».
Open Eye Gallery as an exhibition space
Interested in cohering culture, the gallery works with over seventy-eight partners. From the fashion industry to sustainable practice and workin with local communities, Open Eye doesn’t limit to a singular topic. «We have worked with Nick Knight studio to collaborate on a project called ‘North’. The collaboration was all about northern identity in the United Kingdom, through things found in everyone’s daily lives. Such as fashion, photography, and technology. The exhibition itself was contributing to the ways in which we look at the north of England. This comes from the history of photography which was largely made up of photographers based in the south».
The exhibition toured to Somerset House, London and more recently to The Civic, Barnsley. Recent exhibitions have included The Slum Studio. The studio works with the influx of discarded, second-hand clothes from charities in the West that have inundated Accra. Through creativity and reimagining the potential of this material, they rework, renew, and restore the life cycle of clothes.
Open Eye Gallery is promoting photography at festival LOOK Photo Biennial 2022. The main topic revolves around climate. Works from University of Chester students in BA Fashion Design and BA Photography have been included. The latter have developed and documented a sustainable fashion collection, from charity shop donations and the upcycle of used textiles. Their work aims at showing how to take care of clothes extending their life is an act of kindness to the planet, as well as how creativity can help us change to more sustainable ways of living.
Rethinking what a gallery can be
Always on the search for new voices, the gallery often finds these coming from within local communities. Working with socially engaged photographers. «Socially engaged photography for us is about photographers really listening to the wants and needs of communities and collectively bringing their expertise alongside the life experiences many people have to produce work. This is an indication of what we do as a gallery. We have a gallery space but the majority of what we do doesn’t happen in the gallery. We exhibit in venues across the world as well as within local communities».
Open Eye Gallery has a program of socially engaged projects. Photographer Suzanne St Clare collaborated with members of Chester’s LGBTQ+ community to explore their experiences of lockdown and hopes for the cultural future of the city. Moreover, Tony Mallon and Lucy Hunter engaged local communities to reimagine and create a contemporary portrait of England’s high streets. Then, another project sees artists Sam Batley and Marge Bradshaw working with local citizens from The Watch Factory residential setting in Prescot. The two explored the area’s past and personal connections to it, through experimenting with different photographic styles and techniques.
From exhibitions to events, activities
The events include their Return to Nature project which involves local communities across Wigan. «This is an exhibition that will take place in three different outdoor venues. We are looking at our relationship with nature which coincides with the climate change agenda as well as the health and well-being schema». The two photographers behind the exhibition are Mario Popham and Joe Roper.
As part of the project, the gallery is also working with the local college, to involve young and aspiring photographers who have investigated their own local parks within their communities who will display their findings. «We have captured the essence of communities connecting to the nature around them through activities such as varied exercises. Being out in the fresh air has been pivotal during the coronavirus pandemic. Or we have people who connect to nature through their adoration for the local park, individuals who volunteer to upkeep the land local to them».
Open Eye Gallery’s Climate focus
Open Eye Gallery is proving that anyone can get involved in a topic and learn about pivotal subjects. Earlier this year, Open Eye Gallery hosted the exploratory LOOK Climate Lab. It invited researchers, artists, academics and visionaries to take over the gallery and use it as a lab space. Work in progress was shown, inviting the public to engage in workshops and to talk through ideas tackling climate change.
«We worked with climate within a number of themes: transport, energy, food, nature and materials. Photographers worked in residence with a scientific lab called Energy House. They have taken a typical northern terrace house and rebuilt it within a scientific laboratory using the exact same materials. The experiment involves all weather conditions, and the aim is to test all of the materials’ energy efficiency, which we all think about when looking for ways to save money on our energy bills and insulation».
This project by Stephanie Wynne will be exhibited in The New Adelphi Gallery in Salford in October 2022 for the second wave of LOOK Photo Biennial 2022: Climate, which has just launched at Open Eye Gallery and various sites across Liverpool and the Northwest. The Biennial builds on the projects explored in the Lab and focuses on the agency of people within a sometimes overwhelming climate emergency, maximising the accessibility of photography to transcend languages, borders and cultures.
The gallery partnership with NHS
The gallery has had a long-term partnership with the NHS and specifically their head in the city region, Dr. Sarah Butchard. «She is one of the leading doctors who specializes in dementia. She has done a lot of work with people who are in the early stages of the illness».
«We have collectively worked to erase the stigma around dementia and its image of lonely and sad individuals. We worked with an amazing group of people with early signs of the sickness. One of them used to run the Accident and Emergency department in Liverpool hospital».
Continuing this focus in the autumn of 2022, a co-authored project by Photographer Tadhg Devlin and individuals who either live with or who have been affected by Dementia will be exhibited at Open Eye Gallery. The work highlights the benefits of coming together to offer insight, share experiences, perspectives, and difficulties.
Study with Open Eye Gallery
Open Eye welcomes the opportunity to study with them, presenting a degree with UCEN Manchester in Photography and Social Practice. Graduates will be awarded a Bachelor of Arts, whilst gaining experience within the arts sector and industry photographic practice. A key aim is to «enable students from a variety of backgrounds the opportunity to have a nationally recognised training programme based in the Northwest of England. The program will provide photographers for both regional and national marketplaces».
The Open Eye Gallery
19 Mann Island, Liverpool L3 1BP, United Kingdom
Open Eye Gallery is a photography gallery and archive in Liverpool, UK that was established in 1977. It is housed in a purpose-built building on the waterfront at Mann Island, its fourth location.