I’m just back from visiting Like You’ve Never Been Away, the exhibition of Paul Trevor’s joyous photographs of working class kids and families taken in Everton and Liverpool 8 back in 1975. It’s on at the Walker Art Gallery until 25 September and forms part of Look 11, the first Liverpool International Photography Festival. These may be images of poverty and inner-city deprivation, but they also sing with a sense of freedom and shared happiness.
Paul Trevor came to Liverpool in 1975 as a member of the Gulbenkian Foundation Survival Programmes project, which set out to document aspects of inner city deprivation. With two other photographers, he spent several months recording family and community life in Granby and Everton, capturing glorious images of a community defiant and proud despite a backdrop of high unemployment and poverty. The results were published in 1982 in an Open University book, Survival Programmes in Britain’s Inner Cities, though only a fraction of the Liverpool photos were featured.
The Gulbenkian project set out to document what it meant to be poor in Britain’s inner cities at the start of the 1970s. What Paul Trevor’s photos brilliantly reveal is that alongside the material hardship and deprivation these families endured (just look at the photo below to see that), they also shared a conviviality that enriched their lives in non-material ways: children played together in the streets and back alleys, neighbours nattered and shared a joke at their open front doors.
It’s very difficult to write a sentence like that without seeming condescending or naive. But these photographs reveal that – while Liverpool’s working class districts may look better now than they did, and though poverty may not be as obvious as it was when children went barefoot and wore holes in their socks – something has been lost. These are images of Liverpool waiting for the hammer to fall: the next twenty years were to be the worst in the city’s history, and its working class communities were to be hammered and smashed, firstly by the planners who advised the demolition of streets like Mozart Street off Lodge Lane, where many of Trevor’s photos were taken (like the one at the top of this post) and the dispersal of their inhabitants to wastelands like Netherley. Then the effects of deindustrialisation, made ten times worse by the spite and class hatred of Thatcherism, would take their toll, leaving a generation on the dole, as the docks replaced men with containers and places where families had found work closed – Meccano, Tate & Lyle, Lucas, Triumph, and so on, ad infinitum. Finally, into these blasted zones came drugs, bringing crime, fear – and death.
That last point was brought home poignantly to Paul Trevor when he returned to the city last year to identify the locations where he made his photos, and to try to trace the children he photographed. He discovered that the boy in the photo above was no longer alive – he had died of an overdose in his early twenties, one of the many of his generation swept into the black hole of drug addiction.
And there’s something else that hits you hard looking at these images: you don’t see street photos with children these days. For one thing, social panics mean that photographers can’t take such pictures any more; and, anyway, the kids aren’t playing out much any more. Trevor’s photos brilliantly capture children doing just that – playing, with whatever is to hand. Today, parental fears keep kids indoors.
There’s a brilliant photo (above) that captures the resourcefulness of the kids in Mozart Street back in 1975. They’ve found an old concrete garage and turned it into a den, furnished with car seats and bits of old household furniture. They’ve found a battery-operated record player with some 45s and some candles for atmosphere, to make a great place for a snog.
The kid in the Bay City Rollers tartan cap turns out to be responsible for this whole bloody exhibition, and Paul Trevor’s succesful attempt to identify all the people he photographed back in 1975. His name is Ian Boland, and in early 2008 he wrote to Paul Trevor wondering if he was the same Paul he remembered taking photos of himself and his friends. The two exchanged emails and Ian began identifying some of the people in Paul’s pictures. Their correspondence forms the backbone of the exhibition at the Walker.
Paul managed to track down most of the people in the photos by posting them on Flickr, then found more through community events in Everton and Granby in summer 2010, and with the help of a BBC North West documentary presented by Stuart Maconie.
Paul Trevor told the Liverpool Echo last month that Everton and Liverpool 8 were two very different areas to work in:
Everton looked like how the housing had gone. You could see the slope to the Mersey and could imagine all this terracing down to the river, and there was this big empty space with these high rises. The other end was how I imagined it might have been with terraced housing, long streets, doors open, kids in the street – I was really just comparing those two environments.
In the long term Paul Trevor wants to make new pictures of the people who appeared in his photographs and hear from them about their lives since they last met. He says: ‘The image freezes the moment but life goes on. And I’m keen to make fresh photographs of those kids as adults wherever they are today’.
- Exhibition highlights: a selection of the 58 photographs that can be seen in the exhibition (Walker Art Gallery).
- Paul Trevor’s Liverpool 1975 photos on Flickr
- BBC Inside Out North West: film about Paul Trevor’s return to Liverpool, introduced by Stuart Maconie
- The kids are alright: Guardian video
- Paul Trevor’s website
- Look11 Liverpool