Fifth Floor: A Department Story
26th February - 30th August 2010
This is the photographic work of Stephen King. Not the horror writer,
but an artist specialising in the atmospheric shells of closed buildings.
It's a sort of romantic Bayeux Tapestry of urban degeneration, or the
effects of the collapse of trade on big shops. How this once proud and
ebullient high class "By Appointment To Her Majesty“ empire
was the hallmark, that marked out the great shops or retail palaces in
the city. Not for the likes of us.
“And of course where we got that man showing his tackle, on the
front of the building, they came from everywhere to look at him. I remember
my sister had some friends, who came especially from Ireland and everybody
came down, they couldn’t believe it. Because at the time it just
wasn’t heard of, never mind practically in the middle of Lime Street.”
This was the statue of legend by Epstein.
One hundred and fifty years of Liverpool social history are explored
in the obituary-style photos. It's a series of poignant yet subtly exuberant
snaps, epitomising the retail trade in this city, concentrating however on the fifth floor. The frippery
fragrant and divine reduced like the pyramids to dust and dirt.
While outside rag and bone men stalked the city, and St Paddy’s
market on Great Homer Street sold bundles of rags to people, there existed
another world inside this tower of Babel, a service not unlike the TV
sit comedy 'Are You Being Served?'
Here the camp and kitsch in the kitchen presided over a glitter palace
of fun, the red rose silver service had exclusive written all over it,
from the mosaic tiles design the whole set depicting a food wallpaper
typography perfected by the soon to be developed motorway service, iconic
notice boards based on the 1951 Festival of Britain designs. Very trendy
for its time, as well as rude murals and an arty feel to the experience.
Former glory has never looked so forlorn, like a statue in the rain too
long it is barely recognisable.
Lewis's had its own hairdressers. A quote on one wall read: “There
are salons where people go every week, it sounds mad but they do. Lewis’s
had a lot of ladies who ran pubs in Scotland Road. They were rough, I
mean they had to be, but they were great and you knew where you stood
with them. They come in on Saturdays for the main job and midweek for
a comb and to get more spray on top”.
“Nippies” is what they called the young waitresses doing
the legwork for the customers at the far end of the restaurant. Photos
of former staff tell how the place was like one big extended family and
you were well in with a job here.
A short video by Jacqueline Passmore interviews former staff about the
culture and experience of working there. This speaks to the images as
a sort of code breaker for what could be too sentimental or a wistful
portrait of the good old days - respect in photo tribute form.
Quiet contemplation of the images and voices reminds us of the vast changes
still going on in the city.