you’ve never been away
Photographs by Paul Trevor
13th May – 25th September 2011
Paul Trevor’s Like you’ve never been
away is much more than simply a welcome addition to Liverpool’s
first international photography festival, .
Instead, it is a graphic black-and-white celebration of an era when parents
felt at ease in letting their children roam free through uncongested streets
in search of fun and adventure, usually under the watchful eyes of many
neighbours sat around their front doorsteps.
After being inspired by the demographic changes he had witnessed around
the Brick Lane area of east London, where he had grown up, Trevor joined
the ‘Survival Programmes’ project in 1975 that sought to document
inner-city deprivation across the UK. In the 1970s a derelict post-war
Liverpool was undergoing a massive transformation whereupon much traditional
housing was being demolished to make way for the socially experimental
high-rise blocks of flats. Trevor decided to conduct a comparative photographic
analysis of one such area (Crosby Heights) with another (Toxteth [then
known as Lodge Lane]) that had not been forced to step-aside for ‘progress’
and remained composed of long terraced streets filled with two-up two-down
The underlying point of Trevor’s exhibition appears to be that
children are somewhat immune from socially constructed definitions of
poverty and deprivation. For children, a rubbish tip can transmogrify
into a magical play-area, discarded rope can become a swing and a disused
garage or flat is the perfect place for a den. It is only when they grow
up that they are forced to confront life’s harsh realities. Indeed,
one of the more poignant moments in the exhibition occurs during a video
recording of Trevor, 35 years later, holding a community meeting to attempt
to locate the current whereabouts of the children he had photographed.
One individual points out the boy above and informs Trevor that it is
his brother and that he had died of an overdose.
Another thought that one cannot help leaving the exhibition with is the
manner in which the ‘social experiment’ of high-rises created
a very different type of environment for children to grow up in. Although
both areas were host to high levels of poverty and unemployment, there
is a stark difference between the two in terms of community. In Toxteth,
we see in the background - or the forefront - of the pictures taken of
the children, a host of other characters engaged in a wide range of activities.
However, in the photos from the high-rises children are much more likely
to be playing by themselves, or, if in a group, there are no adults to
be seen in the background.
It is quite bewildering and depressing to see how life was so very different
only 36 years ago. However, by highlighting how recent this crucial moment
in our transition towards asocial recluses happy to let children spend
their formative years watching TV or playing computer games by themselves
occurred, Trevor’s exhibition encourages us to perceive the transition
as far from irreversible. As such, for anyone seeking a little bit of
inspiration in these times of continuous reporting of crime and drugs,
Like you’ve never been away is a must.