Earlier on in the year we at Miniclick were invited up to LOOK//13 to host a couple of short talks. During the down time before the events started the Miniclick team had a chance to experience the goings on within Liverpool’s buzzing photography scene. It was during this downtime that we discovered Ken Grant & Mark Durden’s curated exhibition of Keith Medley’s portraits. Keith Medley was primarily a press and commercial photographer working within Liverpool for the majority of his photographic career. Taken in the mid-sixites Medley exposed half a glass plate at a time in a way to reduce costs by using the negative twice. After the show had started touring, Bill Kelly, one of Medley’s sitters got in contact with family. Shocked to find a forgotten photograph of himself hanging on the wall he wanted to share his experience of being photographed in such a poignant time in Liverpool’s history. In Publication#2, themed on portraiture, we showcased the work of Keith Medley, and to our surprise, shortly after it launched, Bill Kelly (pictured above) got in touch. Jack Latham had a chance to have a chat about the work.
JL: Could you introduce yourself and give a little background of your heritage
BK: I was born in Dublin in 1953. Times were very hard there in the ‘rare ould days’ and my father who was a carpenter found it hard to support a wife and seven children. I was not told we were moving for good, only that we were ‘going on holiday’. We had been to England twice on holiday before yet I still believed my sister when she told me during the boat trip that the houses in England were all painted white with red window frames and English people ate children. We arrived at Woodside and watched the cattle being unloaded before the boat crossed to Liverpool to let us off and then we crossed the Mersey again to Wallasey by ferry. We stayed with an aunt and uncle who gave us Weetabix for breakfast. We had never seen this before and thought it was cardboard and that no matter how bad things were in Ireland, post-war England must be worst if they had to feed children on cardboard. Growing up in Ireland we were oblivious to the fact there had been a world war not long before and marvelled at the numerous bomb sites hidden by hoardings, air raid shelters and the fact that although it was fifteen years since the war ended, most boys seemed to have a piece of shrapnel, bullet or in one case, loaded Webley revolver!
JL: What can you remember about Liverpool at the time you were that age
BK: The blackness of the Liver Building. St George’s hall was black too as was Lime St station and other local buildings. The poor Museum was black too and not yet recovered from wartime damage with few rooms open. The ferries were always packed carrying hundreds of people. The one tunnel was busy with the Tunnel police driving short wheelbase cream coloured Land Rovers. The only underground stations were James St and Central and they were dark and dreary. But Liverpool was vibrant as ever and gripped with Merseybeat fever led by four young men who were had described as ‘that new group’ only a few years earlier.
JL: Can you go into some detail as why you were getting photographed by Keith Medley
BK: We had arrived in England from Dublin a few years earlier. My brother and I were lucky enough to be selected to go on a week long trip to Lourdes, France bring organised by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury. My mother applied for British Passports for us, but they were refused. With only a week to go to departure, the trip organisers decided we should go to London a day earlier with the photographs. We met the person in charge of the trip, Sir Fredrick Woolf, at his suite in the Grosvenor Hotel. We were treated to Coca Cola in crystal glasses in the magnificent lounge. Crisps were served in silver dishes. We marvelled at the fact that the commissioner received a reputed forty pounds a week in tips. We went with Sir Frederick to the Irish Embassy and sat outside the ambassador’s office while he argued our case. Some time afterwards he emerged with a joint passport which we saw briefly. We went to Lourdes. We did not see the passport again and were advised that Sir Frederick would ‘keep it in his safe’.
JL: Did you ever see the photograph?
BK: Yes, when we took the copies to London and when they were fixed into the passport. We did have other copies but they were lost decades ago, so seeing the photographs now after all that time is quite strange.
JL: How was it finding your image now being exhibited within a gallery
BK: Amazing. By chance a nephew went into the gallery and recognised me. He put the photograph on Facebook and asked if it was me. I could not fathom out how he had got hold of it and when he said it was in an exhibition I thought I was dreaming!
JL: How important do you think it is for Liverpool’s history that these photographs have come back into the limelight.
BK: Extremely important. While the more famous and celebrated among us have very well documented lives, an incalculable amount of information about ordinary people disappears every day forever.