It is the first date for Saturday Girl About Town Wigan and it is December 4th. It is dark and lashing with rain. The streets are awash with the wild weather along with the Christmas stalls, the shoppers, the wind. We are set up in The Galleries as part of The Fire Within, an exhibition and whole transformation of the shopping spaces in Wigan Town Centre and a part of the council’s 5 year plan for culture. Our space for today has a giant Emoji stage with neon lights hanging from the ceiling. it is a perfect Saturday Girl About Town space which is to say it embodies something of the story of how Northern towns are reimagining town centres and questioning how these spaces can be used to authentically address the local needs and interests of the community. These spaces come into the portraits, often seen around the sides of the backdrops in the photographs.
Students from Wigan and Leigh College are here, all fired up and ready to assist today. They are also responding to aligned briefs as part of their graphic design, fine art, photography and fashion studies . This has become an integral part of the new work. I work alongside local folks, in conversation with local colleges, lecturers, students and young practitioners. Their voices and perspectives are essential along with local knowledge about where folks hang out and what they are doing here in Wigan as self expression and in response to the pandemic and larger cultural shifts.
We take turns practicing our catwalk walks, try to incorporate the emoji stage in the photos, chat with the students about their ideas and eat pies from local bakeries.
We take pictures.
Taryn walks by and agrees to be photographed. With a fresh new piercing and green hair she explodes with playful vitality in front of the orange backdrop. We talk tattoos, hair colour and piercings. it is fun and we both decide this photoshoot has made our days.
Kids are hanging out in the corridors and some come in to be photographed. Boys in hoodies, black coats and sportswear; they connect with the project, they connect with the session, you can see it immediately in the photos. It is shocking to me, to think I may passed them by and not noticed their more subtle decisions about self expression.
it is dark and wild outside, we pack up the backdrops and head off into the December night along with all the other folks with their hoods up.
Saturday 11th and we are back. The team head out to invite people to come along. Today the weather is easier, the Christmas shoppers are out. I am feeling the pressure to make a series for the upcoming exhibition in the windows of the former Marks & Spencers which is being curated by Castlefield Gallery. This is so interesting, this repurposing, reimagining of town spaces. This is an exciting location where the context is part of the story of Saturday Girl About Town.
The portraits in these retail windows will reflect and be in conversation with the history of fashion, clothing, shopping and the streets themselves in Wigan.
We eat mince pies and take many photos. The students are ace and professional and they are having fun. That fun is important. The studio, the creative decision making thrives and flows as joyful work.
There is growing talk of the new variant Omicron and what seemed like a holiday season of parties and socialising is now in question again this year. The virus chaos is becoming the fabric of conversation, planning and decision making. We are all masked and once again rethinking the plans for the studio in January. ‘Keep up keep up!’ the virus says as it dances and shape shifts yet again reminding us that we are not in control.
As in the other towns, here in Wigan there are the non binary folks, the witches, crystal wearing kids. There have names that are chosen, and wear their values and beliefs as patches, jewellery and t-shirt slogans. There is a alignment with non rational beliefs and ways of living more aligned with nature, cycles, intuition, spirit. There is more magic in the air and in the conversations. Everyone seems happy to be photographed under the Saturday Girl banner. This word girl, I am no longer sure what the word means. It has changed and lost its precision, like so much these days, identity, language, culture, nature - everything is changeable, changing and slippery. Maybe the distinctions, the edges of language, people, continents and countries were all an illusion anyway. The borders are closing yet boundaries and binaries are dissolving.
It is a tumultuous time to be alive, to document and explore the world. There is so much shifting and collapsing going on its hard to keep up.
But keep up is what I’m trying to do, with my camera, to record this change and how it can be seen on the young. They are wearing the clues. ‘Keep up keep up!’ They say.