This is the first major exhibition by Midlands-based artist John Myers. Comprising black and white photographs made in the 1970s, Ikon’s selection includes Middle England (1970–1974), a number of portraits of individuals and families living in and around Stourbridge and the Black Country.
Myers’ approach is documentary in style, reflecting the taste, self-perceptions and aspirations of the people he photographed. Thus we observe them in their sitting rooms and bedrooms, or in their leisure or work spaces, surrounded by the telling paraphernalia of their daily lives. They pose with deliberate stances and gestures, responding to the sense of occasion engendered by Myers’ use of a Gandolfi plate camera set on a tripod with a dark viewing cloth. As well as domestic interiors, occupied particularly by couples and women, we see the studio where a young girl attends ballet classes, the back yard where a boy plays football and a club where two men play snooker.
Myers chose to photograph people who lived within walking distance of his own home, and so he recorded the world as he knew it. A kind of natural history unfolds through Middle England, with its depictions of human life and habitats, significantly as the portraits are shown alongside an exceptional image of a giraffe in a zoo enclosure. This juxtaposition reminds us of the fact that we are shaped by our built environments, as much as we shape them.
In addition to Middle England, Myers made typological studies of TV sets and a series of Boring Landscapes. For these photographs, Myers ensured there was no hidden story; this is the urban scene without the distraction of the human figure or any implied narrative. The viewpoint is at eye level, suggesting that the viewer might be the first person to encounter Dual Carriageway (1974) or Lift Doors at Waitrose (1975). The ten photographs of televisions (1973) similarly convey a sense of novelty, encouraging our careful consideration of what might be overlooked through familiarity.
Ten portraits from John Myers’ Middle England series are displayed in frames on the hoardings around the construction site of the new Library of Birmingham, outside the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, for the duration of this exhibition. Middle England is organised in collaboration with Birmingham Library and Archive Services.
An illustrated catalogue with essays by Paul Lewis, writer and photography specialist, and Eugénie Shinkle, photographer, writer and Senior Lecturer in Photographic Theory and Criticism at the University of Westminster, accompanies the exhibition, priced £15.
The John Myers exhibition is supported by The Owen Family Trust.