In early May, 800 hardy souls were photographed posing nude at selected locations in Salford and Manchester. As the events were photographed rather than painted I’d expected the results to be displayed in the promenade part of The Lowry but instead they are inside the art gallery. It is possible that the smaller space prompted ruthless quality control as some of the poses that, on the day, felt dodgy are not included.
Actually only a couple of shots from each event are featured. On entering the gallery we are greeted by an enlarged version of one of them. As I feature in profile and in the centre foreground one of the first things you’re likely to see is me - starkers. Please note that it was very cold that day.
Apart from a short introduction there is no narrative leaving the audience to make up their own minds about the display. Reading the various comments on the web gives the impression that there was a different atmosphere on the two days the photos were taken. This is reflected in the exhibit. The tone of the first day seems if not lighter then certainly brighter and more colourful. Peel Park in Salford is transformed into Eden with groups of naked people artfully arranged and surrounded by vibrant colours that stop the breath and raise the spirits. You feel like bursting into song as you look at this selection. This contrasts with shots taken the next day of tight circles of people huddled together in a bleak urban environment at Eastlands.
Contrast of colours comes up in a great shot taken under the railway bridge near Victoria. The bridge plunges half those posing into shadow but in the background the rising sun creates a blare of light. It is both moving and frightening.
Other photos have less impact. Queues of naked people standing in straight lines uncomfortably bring to mind concentration camps. A group of people crowded together around Concorde has little effect and, strangely, is laid out so that the identity of the famous craft is not clear. This odd layout applies to a shot taken at The Lowry that ignores the landmarks – the bridge and tower – and instead gives us a crowd around what could be an abstract metal structure. It emphasises that it is the people, rather than the building, that is significant.
The most surprising shot is one in which I took part. My memory of the event at the Railway Bridge and barges at Castlefield was of a drab monotone colour. Somehow Tunick has drawn out surprising richness from the deep grey colours adding a vibrancy that makes shot teem with life.
The Lowry has wisely given pride of place to a double photo of groups of naked women pressed against the windows of the buses in which we travelled around the cities. As good as I remembered.
The installation concludes with a documentary on the event. Thankfully there is no narration but the documentary adds an element that is missing from the display – background noise. There was an odd feeling to hearing the cities start to wake up as traffic noise began to grow. The documentary again illustrates a contrast between the two days with the film at Peel Park showing the participants running downhill on grass in bright morning sun.
The opening shot of the next day shows an ominous early morning outside The Lowry followed by the group rather grumpily stripping off in the street. The adverse conditions – people visibly shiver in the cold – are caught on film. As am I – for some reason I crop up at the end of two scenes putting my glasses back on. Scenes that were eliminated from the actual installation are included and the reason for them being cut is easy to see.
Everyday People is more than just a reminder of a remarkable experience. It will give any observer the motivation to look again at places with which they have been familiar for years.
- Dave Cunningham
Everyday People is at the Lowry from today until 26 September. For more information, click here.