The only photography venue in the UK exclusively devoted to documentary, Side Gallery closed in 2015 for a major redevelopment, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England. Last summer 60,000 people came to see For Ever Amber, the retrospective of the extraordinary AmberSide Collection at Newcastle's Laing Art Gallery. Finally after a year and a half, Amber has got its own gallery back, representing a new chapter in the film and photography collective’s remarkable story.
CHILDHOODS brings together new work and work from Amber’s collection, creating a complex portrait of children's imaginative lives, the social contexts they deal with, their resilience: lives and concerns that often get overlooked. The exhibition will move between North East England and the wider world. It will move across the four decades of Side Gallery's existence.
“As well as exploring its themes, the exhibition is looking at where we are going over the next ten years,” says Kerry Lowes, the gallery team member who has curated the show, “it opens up on the connections we are making, new ways of working with communities and audiences, new ways of showing work at Side.”
The new gallery spaces allow more flexibility in the use of both photographs and video, and CHILDHOODS will take advantage of this; moving between Dovana Films shorts, capturing children's stories from Peru to the coasts of the Aegean, to some of the great exhibitions held in the collection: Tish Murtha's Juvenile Jazz Bands (1979), Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen's Step by Step (1984), Dean Chapman’s Shifting Ground (2001), Karen Robinson's All Dressed Up (2005). It will include Julian Germain's Classroom Portraits, developed across the world between 2004 and 2012 and James Mollison’s Where Children Sleep (2010), mediating stories of diverse children around the world, told through portraits and pictures of their bedrooms and the complex situations and social issues affecting them.
The gallery closed in 2015 with Kai Wiedenhöfer's Confrontier, looking at the walls which divide cities and countries across the world. For the new exhibition, Wiedenhöfer is contributing a series of portraits of refugee children from his new work, Forty Out of One Million / Syrian Collateral, which he has just shown pasted on to the Berlin Wall.
CHILDHOODS explores how photographers and filmmakers can tell children's stories and how children themselves can look at their worlds. From the collection it will include Wendy Ewald's seminal Portraits and Dreams, a participative project from the 1970s developed with the children she was teaching in a small coalfield community in the Appalachians, USA.
The exhibition also includes Liz Hingley’s previously unseen Home Made in Smethwick (2016). These intimate portraits of family meals and home cooked foods on offer in the ethnically diverse streets of Smethwick are accompanied by personal recipes, highlighting meal time’s importance in family bonding and defining children's long-term relationship with food. Commissioned by Multistory, as part of their ambitious ‘Black Country Stories’ programme, Hingley’s series also gives an insight into peoples journeys to Smethwick and reveals another perspective on the migration experience.
When photographer Lesley McIntyre’s daughter Molly was born in 1984, it was revealed she was suffering from a muscular abnormality and the doctors thought it was highly unlikely she would survive more than a few weeks or months. In spite of this, McIntyre did take her home and Molly lived until her fourteenth birthday. As a photographer McIntyre began recording the details of the day to day and found observing childhood fascinating. Because of the precarious nature of Molly’s life, the photographs have an extraordinary poignancy. The Time of Her Life reveals a life full of vitality and the ordinariness of growing up, despite the challenges both Molly and McIntyre faced on a daily basis.
Over the last year and a half, Amber has been developing a number of projects in primary schools, using the inspiration of the collection to encourage practical documentary skills. That new engagement with children is now playing into the themes of the re-opening exhibition, while, in the gallery's new social space, Side will be showing some of the work it has been developing with children in the communities of the North East.
Redevelopment has given Side Gallery a new study centre with digital access to the collection and people will be on hand to introduce this new on site resource and Amber's new website. It has also given Side a library, where audiences can look, for example, at Wendy Ewald's original publication of Portraits and Dreams (1985) and Kai Wiedenhöfer's Forty Out of One Million /Syrian Collateral (2016).