Liverpool, via Oxford Street….last chance today!

Tom Wood, Men and Women

Men and women, boys and girls, young, colourful, decaying, decrepit, all stages of life and varying degrees of poverty are on display until 6pm today at the Photographers’ Gallery, London. Tom Wood’s concise exhibition, which has been running since 12th October, closes today. If you’re in the area, you should definitely make a quick detour from your sales shopping for the chance to be immersed in other people’s lives, if but for a moment.

Irish-born Wood has been photographing members of the British working class across four decades of his life. His interest seems to have been piqued by those living in Liverpool and Merseyside, this exhibition focuses on this selection of his work. If you’ve been to the (fairly) new incantation of the Gallery over on Ramillies Street you’ll know the exhibition spaces are compact. There’s still a lot to see here.

Lining the walls are faces we all recognise, but aren’t called to notice very often: the worn face of a toilet attendant, the young self satisfied girl applying lipstick using a compact mirror on the train. There are also signs of hard times; young children dressed in oversized hand me down clothes, a scowling ginger girl carrying a baby across wasteland and a pregnant woman posing in a dilapidated room. Most prevalent, though, is the faint hint of pathos. It’s there in the face of the old woman staring critically at herself in a mirror, in the empty face of the lone man in the pub. You may feel pangs of pathos too, for your lost youth, as you survey the giggling girls on the brink of puberty enjoying themselves at the fairground, or the tiny blue and red figure ‘in a huff’ in the hallway.

It’s not only the stark ordinary faces that dazzle in these photographs, the tonal pallet might pull you right back into your childhood. Contained in this white cube room are the bright brashness of cheaply dyed clothes and the pastel hues of sunsets glowing off peroxide hair. Contrasting with which are the sludgey browns of the local pub and the flat strips of terrace housing against grey skies, there are no opulent, exotic shades here. This is pure 80’s nostalgia.

Real life is captured within these images, not the glossy world portrayed in fashion magazine spreads. Nobody is beautiful, nobody is out of reach. Elements of the stories told feel very northern, the proud elderly faces and the old man telling off a sheepish youngster on the bus. But for good and for bad, there are elements of all our lives that we’ll recognise here. The loyal families and Sunday trips to the market, as well as the pornographic posters stuck to the roadside and the lonely expressions in empty rooms; Wood’s camera lens is all seeing, all encompassing.

My companion noted that pictures from his family album wouldn’t look out of place on the walls, that nobody would notice if he slipped one in. Of course, that isn’t the case; Wood’s offerings are expertly and sensitively shot, fine tuned over years of perfecting his craft. My friend was onto something though, I should warn you to expect to feel pangs of remembrance of your own past. I certainly did, despite myself, think back to seaside arcades in those endless yellow summers, cheap cider in the park, my Nan’s cramped frilly front room on a Sunday, Woolworths pick and mix and socks from the market. Even if you had a more affluent upbringing, there’ll surely be some point of recall for you in this exhibition.


Tom Wood, Three Wise Women (1989)

On display until 6pm, 6th January 2013.

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