Photography exhibition by Jane MacNeil
Bold Street Coffee, Liverpool
Until 28th October 2016 (Open every day)
Reviewed by Ashley McGovern
The takeaway image from this exhibition of photographs by Liverpool street photographer Jane MacNeil is one of a girl, hungry after a hen do, tucking into a boat of chips lathered in BBQ sauce. You can even buy a postcard version at the counter of Bold Street Coffee, where MacNeil’s proud pictures of life on the streets of the city centre are being shown for the first time.
MacNeil started her ‘Streets of Liverpool’ project in 2010 and the pictures definitely have a post-Capital of Culture vibrancy about them. The city is presented as a place of fun and culture, and neither one takes over. There are pictures of people napping in the beautiful Picton Reading room in the renovated Central Library; in another shot, two woolly hats, their heads and bodies hidden, are looking at a Hockney painting in the Walker Art Gallery.
The sense of blossoming cultural activity can be glimpsed further on MacNeil’s blog (www.janemacneil.co.uk/streets-of-liverpool-photography) with shots of people on film sets, reminding us (as the Museum of Liverpool’s current show Reel Stories does) that Liverpool is now more than ever a hotspot for filmmakers. As the wall of Bold Street Coffee can only hold so many pictures, I’d definitely recommend taking a deeper look.
As well as the rich culture, the vibrant party scene is here too. In an incredible, almost surreal, stroke of photographic luck, two lads are snapped tying their mate, the unlucky stag, to a lamppost with handcuffs – just at the right moment a bus rolls by with a poster reading ‘A little help from my friends’.
And there are more moments of surreal encounter in the streets. A topless older man is walking through Williamson Square with a bad case of sun burn; his shoulder is badly blistered like zombie flesh but he walks on regardless, enjoying the summer’s day. (On MacNeil’s website one photograph shows a woman waiting for a bus on Renshaw Street, standing absolutely stock-still and glowering fearlessly in the bus lane)
The wall text, written by David Lloyd, reminds us that nowadays photography all too easily slides into Instagram opportunities for snap-happy selfie-crazed orchestrators. What MacNeil’s work offers is someone who knows Liverpool, who even feels like she knows her chance subjects by name:
“I’ve spent so much time walking around the city that I’ve started to recognise people I think I know. I try to remember their names, then realised, I don’t know them at all.”
MacNeil’s documentation of Liverpool is extensive. Her other projects include photographing the parade after the brilliant and beloved Cilla Black’s funeral; shooting the inside of Liverpool’s quirky independent cinema; and capturing images of the giant marionettes which illustrated World War One through surreal street-walking puppetry back in 2014.
Awestruck crowds and cultural buzz are the main themes, but there are moments of quiet and rest.