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Posted on 22nd November, 2011

Review of Paul Trevor's exhibition "Like You've Never Been Away", at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (Sep 2011).


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It was the year of Abba's hit song 'SOS', which you hear coming from the video that is also on display in the gallery space. But was Liverpool really like this at that time, I had to keep asking myself. Whereas 'SOS' seems not that distant a memory, scenes depicted in Paul Trevor's work are like a world away. Although 'reconstruction' was taking place, the environment was so far removed from today that you could easily think pics were from the 1950's, not the 1970's. But they are far from a world away in terms of current photographic trends, as these b&w images are street photography in anyone's sense but that of the candid purist.


Images are set in the deprived inner-city districts of Liverpool, such as Everton and Toxteth, and are what cynical Southerners would probably describe as the hackneyed gritty and moody 'grim up north' style. They are of residents depicted in typical everyday activities, almost entirely with available light. There are a few scene-setting shots, but images are mainly of families seen together in dingy living rooms, and grubby children playing on wastelands and streets. Unbelievable as it might seem nowdays, but there are even kids playing on the walls of high-rise balconies, which have no protection from falls to certain death.


There are only one or two 'decisive moments'. Mostly however, the action portrayed does not need to be caught at the critical split-second for it to be absorbing and interesting. In a similar vein, there are few true candids, the subjects mostly being very aware of PT's presence. Again though, this does not prevent PT from capturing genuine spontaneity, which the kids display in abundance. More surprising perhaps, is that these same kids exude a natural joy that defies the bleakness of their outlook. Definitely at an age of innocence you'd say: but had you seen the shot called 'Kids Den' by then I wonder? For me though, it is pathos that leaves the lasting impression, with the poignant image of a young girl, standing in an almost deserted street full of terraced houses, deep in thought. A better winner for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize I can't imagine.


On the technical side, Walker Art Gallery is to be congratulated for fronting the images in non-reflective material: too many exhibitions are spoiled by glare, which make it impossible to see the images comfortably. What bothered me a little though, was the fact that a number of images did not display pure blacks and pure whites: they reminded me of prints on the appalling resin-based papers of 30-ish years ago. I also felt that I wanted to know more about the background to the original 1975 project. Although there are brief notes on display, why specifically were PT and two others chosen to do this work, by which paymaster, with what motive, and why then? And what has become of those two colleagues, and their work? Overall though, these niggles did not spoil my enjoyment of the exhibition: I left feeling very moved at having seen an historic record of a time that I can relate to: I just wanted more information, and most definitely more images.


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