As an inner-city Mancunian child of the 70s, the end of the school year meant three things to me: no homework for a couple of months, getting shouted at for popping tar bubbles in the street and the annual pilgrimage to North Wales.
Big families like ours were priced out of anywhere that needed a plane to get you there. For my mum and dad, that left the choice of the ferry to Ireland or the train to Rhyl. I always got seasick five minutes out of Holyhead so I would sigh with relief when my dad came home from work to announce:
“Right! I’ve booked it, Sadie. Robin Hood camp here we come!!”
They were great holidays. My parents were hard workers and they really needed that seven days of sun and relaxation. My dad would change from being the stern figure of authority we knew at home to someone who seemed almost carefree – and mum revelled at the chance to dance every night for a week without the worry of getting five kids ready for school the next morning.
When I go round to their house, I often dig out the old albums. We sit there laughing at the cheesily predictable poses; Charlie getting buried up to his neck on Towyn beach; Charlie on a donkey; Charlie looking freezing cold in a grey sea; Charlie sulking because he’s used up all of his spends at the amusements.
Those beautiful little moments in time are captured on paper, and passing decades fail to diminish their power to bring pleasure and reflection. The family shots in the caravan door are my favourites, with everybody dressed up ready to go out. Dad’s there with his jet-black hair slicked back with Brylcreem, looking like an Irish Don Draper, and all the boys are dressed in almost identical clothes because it was just easier for my mum to shop that way.
Artist Jane Evans has liberated that pleasure and reflection from the drawers and cupboards of her contributors and into The Font, Chorlton. Her exhibition, North Wales Holiday Photos, sees an entire back wall of the bar and one of the pillars playing host to hundreds of 10 x 15cm photos.
Getting lots of tiny glimpses into the lives of the holidaymakers makes this a fascinating display. None of the pictures are labelled, which allows you to make up your own back story or narrative to what you see. There is no attempt to categorise the photos by age or subject matter. You’re looking at skateboards leaning up against a caravan, but a quick glance down takes you to a post-war elderly couple eating ice-creams on the beach.
I’m not in any of the pictures, but that’s part of what makes the exhibition captivating. All of the pictures could be me or you. All the things I did as a child are up on those walls and it has the power to make you smile and feel a touch melancholy at the same time. Fathers put proud, protective arms around little girls who are now in their 50s. Kids giggle while they shiver in towels, yet to have a care in the world, and big sisters rest hands lovingly on the shoulders of little brothers who are now men.
As I moved from picture to picture, a lyric from Cemetery Gates crossed my mind:
“All those people, all those lives, where are they now?”
Nobody really commits images to paper and albums anymore and it’s a shame. We’re happy to leave them stored on digital cameras or phones and anything slightly out of focus or a chopped off head is immediately deleted. In this exhibition, these pictures still make the cut and the flaws have a charm of their own.
I chanced upon someone spotting himself in one of the photos. He’d sent it in a year ago but had assumed it wouldn’t be good enough to go up. I enjoyed his delight as he called his family over to look at it.
It’s fitting that the exhibition is in the setting of a modern bar like The Font. It forms an interesting juxtaposition with the busy texting and tweeting lives of the punters going on under the gaze of the people in the photos, frozen in time.
Go along, take advantage of the cheap cocktails and spend an hour looking at the photos. I guarantee that it will make you want to go round to your mum’s and look at the albums. That’s where I’m going now!
Review by Charlie Bell
Images: Jane Evans
What: North Wales Holiday Photos
Where: The Font, Chorlton
When: until May 26, 2013
More info: http://thefontbar.wordpress.com/