The Public in West Bromwich from 27 February until 6 May, 2013.
The project looks at how the issues around inequality in contemporary society can be expressed through the photographic image. The project uses as its template the historic A41 trunk road, which links central London with Birkenhead on the banks of the Mersey. The project is staged in partnership with The Equality Trust, an organisation which raises awareness and campaigns on inequality in the UK.
The principal reason for using the A41 as the metaphorical template for the project was my discovery that the road commences at the top end of Park Lane in the West End of London - one of England's richest streets, and terminates at Woodside Ferry in Birkenhead, one of the country's most deprived wards. That is not to say that the streets of London are all paved with gold and that Birkenhead has nothing going for it. Quite the opposite: levels of inequality in London are amongst the worst in the developed world and the consequences felt by many, both rich and poor, in the Capital. My interest lay in defining inequality and the income gap and finding metaphors which could illustrate and describe what I found through my research.
The project has been one year in the making: the final six months of which I spent 'on the road' travelling the length of the A41 from near my home on Merseyside down to London - and back again several times. I would usually fit in trips along the A41 around the work I did with four participatory photography groups based along the route. Through The Equality Trust, groups were established in London, Milton Keynes, West Midlands and Merseyside. These groups consisted of people with an interest in the subjects of inequality and photography and who were keen, like me, to experiment and look creatively at how the issues could be illustrated using the photographic image.
For my own work, I based the images I made on themes, statistics or ideas which I had researched, or which emerged from the workshops with the participatory groups. Often I would be looking to illustrate a specific fact or quote, and in the final pieces of work, I turned these into questions. As a result, the images which are on display at The Public have questions written underneath the photographs such as: "Is life expectancy greater in more equal rich countries?" or "Are children negatively affected by growing up in more unequal countries?" Without answering these questions, I am requesting the viewer to consider what is being asked, therefore allowing a degree of ambiguity which is often a necessary part of the artistic process and presentation.
Photographers are particularly fond of road trips and journeys: the instil a sense of narrative and direction in the work being made made. We like to see ourselves as explorers, adventurers, too. What I enjoyed most was discovering parts of England which were previously unknown to me. There were fascinating corners of the country such as Bilston in the West Midlands, where I discovered a fascinating legacy of the Industrial Revolution in the shape of the immaculate Hickman Park, a beautifully preserved community amenity in a changing landscape. I also came across Riches Street in Wolverhampton, except the word 'Street' was no longer there. It seemed to be a perfect and poignant message, and I couldn't help wondering whether there was a 'Rags Street' close by which could have illustrated the gap between rich and poor symbolically.
The project was funded by the Arts Council England and The Equality Trust. It will continue to tour over the next 18 months, with showings in Milton Keynes, Birkenhead and London.
To see the complete collection of 25 images, please visit http://colinmcpherson.photoshelter.com/gallery/A41-Exhibition/G0000XxKfeKl5ajU/C0000x0SFieqxS.E
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