Preview - 'U.N.I.T.Y - Memories of a Free Festival'
Manchester’s rich cultural history is by no means a well-kept secret. Over the last 40 years it has spewed out a nascent brand of swagger and colloquial charm which peaked into the mainstream in the late 80’s/early 90’s with artists such as The Fall, Happy Mondays, and New Order at the forefront - a time before the homogeneous sheen of high definition cameras or the revolutionary ubiquity of the internet.
‘U.N.I.T.Y – Memories of a Free Festival’, a new exhibition being held at The Crown & Kettle in the city’s Northern Quarter, presents photographs taken at an anti-racist community event in Chorlton circa ‘94. The photo-taker, Steve Hunt, perfectly manages to capture the simplicity of the calm before the storm of 21st century self-awareness. Marry this timing with a thirst for the unique scarification of technical mishaps such as over exposure and we are instantly thrown into a black and white world of juxtapositions, none of which have gone unnoticed by Steve and all of which seem to hold relevance now, in early 2017, as the world pirouettes ever so clumsily on its hovering husk of a heel.
I meet Steve in a small backroom at The Crown and Kettle where he is putting the final touches to his exhibition. As his assistant hangs the last of the photographs, spirit level in hand, Steve tells me of his favourite of the pieces- a family of six whose body language tells of a far deeper, complex set of subject matters; a single mum alongside her sister and sisters partner, children woven between them in varying states of familial comfort, one sister sits in the background, seemingly single, alone, a look of deep sadness captured in the blink of an eye through Steve’s borrowed Nikon SLR (the real star in Steve’s show). It is obvious to me that Steve is more interested in the hypothetical narratives his pictures present than any vision of his own making. His intrigue is one of spectating rather than participating. He jokes with me that his default answer is “NO COMMENT” as he stresses his distrust for pigeonholing people. He is not a photographer; he took some photographs, let them speak for themselves.
As I place myself at a table in the corner of the main saloon bar I observe a group of middle-aged women sitting down to drink. One of the women holds in her hand a selfie stick, a robotic limb connected to her smart phone poised and prepared for photo snapping. They take a few pictures of themselves from their slightly extended vantage point and then, as the moment of aimless self-absorption passes, they relax and accidentally release the phone from its holster. As they scramble desperately to save it from the wooden floor, lest it smash and render the phone obsolete - Flash! Bang! Wallop! style. I couldn’t help but feel as though the phone was trying to end its own life, to at once be released from the mundanity of its selfie servitude.
Steve makes art. There is no denying that. He has a keen eye for what excites him and knows that what interests him speaks for itself. Recently he has been in the fine city of Glasgow sorting through his collection of art related ephemera amassed over the last 20 years of his travelling Europe and The States. He has exhibited his work in Tokyo, London and Bacup among other places, had poetry published through Pariah Press and recorded a spoken word album, all in quick succession. Quite clearly he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. He is an open book and very quick to pull himself from the scrum of the academic world of art, for want of authenticity over bourgeoisie point scoring. I concur.
In April, Steve, Austin Collings and I will collaborate with others on a project for Sounds from The Other City festival at The Kings Arms in Salford. Tickets are available online.
Steve Hunt’s ‘U.N.I.T.Y – Memories of a Free Festival’ runs until 6 April at The Crown & Kettle, Manchester. Silver Gelatine Prints (editions of 25) and Lambda Prints (editions of 100) are available to purchase from the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Camera-Chameleon // by Joseph Charlton
the sphincter of a camera shutter
sucking the momentary soul
right out of the present
and introducing it to a future
of captured pasts
the shape the jaw makes
when it knows no social codes
the retinal canvas of a billion onlookers
to light automatic
the seraphim sunlight glancing off
a tapestry of multi coloured skins
like beetle chitin
or a molotov puddle
or the wing of a city pigeon in flight
Joseph Charlton is a writer and artist operating in the North of England. He likes shortwave radio and x-ray audio. He runs Fandango Hack, a zine and collective and is involved in various experimental music projects. He is available for wiring.
Photography by Steve Hunt.