Roads to Wigan Pier

Russell Boyce, Huw Davies, Julian Germain, Graham Hall, John Kemp, Tim Smith

In November 1972 Impressions Gallery opened in a room above a shop in York with the first ever exhibition by the then unknown Martin Parr. As one of the first specialist photography galleries in Europe it has gone on to play a vital role in championing photography and has had a huge impact on the development of the photographic culture in Britain.

To mark this occasion Anne McNeill, Director of Impressions, has selected from the gallery’s archive an exhibition first shown in October 1984. Taking as their starting point George Orwell’s seminal 1937 publication The Road to Wigan Pier, a sociological investigation into the bleak living conditions of the working class in Yorkshire and Lancashire, six newly graduated students of photography were commissioned by Impressions to record and document social aspects of the North of England. Each worked independently and each took a personal viewpoint.

These non-judgemental, yet sometimes shocking, photographs show us a way of life that was in terminal decline. This picture of Orwellian dystopia acts as an elegy of the northern urban landscape and its people, on the brink of irrevocable social and cultural change. Today, in-post industrial Britain, we are perhaps inclined to forget the recent past as many of the symbols of poverty and neglect have been replaced by regeneration.

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