The Future Of The High Street Is... The Future Of The High Street Is...
I remember Saturdays in 1978, applying heavy make-up, backcombing my hair and donning newly-ripped clothes before meeting friends in the local town centre. We were 14 and emulating ‘real’ punk rockers. I later experimented with other clan dress – never, I thought, as authentically as my friends.
In 2015 I met photographer Casey Orr who had set up her portable portrait studio in Liverpool city centre and invited young women to pose against brightly coloured backcloths. She told me about previous shoots in her home city of Leeds, her delight in the expressive hair styles, outfits and make-up she’d photographed, and then her excitement at finding differences in Liverpool – she particularly championed the ‘I’m going out tonight’ curlers that are worn with attitude in our city.
Over the next few years Orr celebrated these nuances, taking portraits in 13 other UK cities. She always shot on a Saturday afternoon, recognising that this is the time to dress up, meet friends, see and be seen on our high streets. During these years a revolution of gender identity was unfolding which Orr embraced – sitters self-selected, everyone was welcome.
In 2019, the resulting award-winning photographic series ‘Saturday Girl’ was rightly acclaimed. And the portraits in the publication – of the same name – give us, without question, a most affirming experience.
In 2020 the unimaginable happened. The pandemic put a stop to Saturdays on the high street. In northern centres major stores closed. The drift to shopping online accelerated – which, on top of the move to retail park shopping, made some questions urgent. What does the future high street look like? And if centres are re-modelled, who are they for?
In 2021, as things opened-up again, Casey Orr began ‘Saturday Girl About Town’. Her pop-up portrait studio was welcomed in Redcar, Wigan, Blackpool, Burnley and Chester. The project shifted. She researched the history of individual high streets and worked more closely with local young people. New trends were discussed, like the distinctive look many young people achieve by snapping-up quality clothes from charity shops.
Viewing the new images with my 17 year-old daughter, I realise I can’t read them as she does. She points at the portraits and names different looks – this person is like her, ‘Basic’ which means ‘nothing standing out,’ whereas this one is ‘Alt’, like her best friend ‘heavy black eye-liner, dyed hair, fish nets’. She lists other categories. I realise how deeply ‘Saturday Girl About Town’ will forever resonate with her generation. I think about her isolation during lockdown. Surely now, more than ever, we need to celebrate the diversity of young people who add so much life to our high street. I look at the images again. These people are amazing. The five northern high streets are each hosting an exhibition dedicated to the local ‘Saturday Girl About Town’ – and thanks to Orr’s exceptional skill, the sitters confidently invite us to recognise that the future of the high street is, in fact, theirs.Sarah Fisher- Director, Open Eye Gallery
BLACKPOOLTHE PEOPLE'S PLAYGROUND
BLACKPOOLTHE PEOPLE'S PLAYGROUND
Blackpool is the home of popular culture. It is the first working class seaside resort where factory and mill workers from across the north and Scotland would come in their thousands for fun, fresh air and to ‘let their hair down’. Blackpool is synonymous with entrepreneurial spirit and re-invention. Home of the world famous Illuminations and our award winning light art festival ‘Lightpool’, today the resort welcomes 18 million visitors every year.
Blackpool was delighted to welcome Casey Orr to capture images of the young people that contribute to the dynamism, aspiration and life blood of our town. We wanted Casey to connect her work to the amazing cultural heritage on our High Street – Blackpool’s stunning Winter Gardens and Grand Theatre are both in the heart of our town centre. We know local young people have great pride in the town’s culture and heritage. Locations for Casey’s shoots such as the Baronial Hall in the Winter Gardens have provided a wonderful juxtaposition of historic and contemporary life.
Blackpool’s town centre, like the majority across the country, has faced a range of challenges over the last decade as society and how we want to live our lives has changed and adapted to a digital world. Blackpool Council with a number of key public and private sector partners is re-imaging the town centre with a host of exciting regeneration schemes that will come to fruition over the next 5 to 10 years.
The state-of-the-art £30m conference and exhibition centre at the Blackpool Winter Gardens is now open, linking to the refurbished Empress Ballroom and Opera House.
Blackpool Central is a planned new world-class leisure development on the Central Station site, just off the famous Golden Mile. It is one of the UK’s most important regeneration projects with the £300m scheme being the largest single investment in Blackpool for over a century.
Blackpool Central also proposes to restore the site’s existing heritage buildings including the Grade II listed former King Edward VII Picture House to create a thriving new Heritage Quarter.
Showtown Blackpool will be the UK’s first museum to feature permanent displays on circus, magic, variety, and ballroom dance - filled with 800+ objects from the town’s extensive collections and those on loan from our national partners, including the Victoria and Albert Museum. This £13m project, due to open on the Promenade in 2023, will be designed like no other museum, telling personal stories, highlighting how Blackpool has touched the lives of millions. Young people have been consulted widely on how the museum should look and feel.
Plans for a new £70m town centre skills campus, the Multiversity, are being developed by the Council in conjunction with Blackpool and the Fylde College and Lancaster University. It will be a centre of excellence for learning skills that support our young people as well as mature students in fulfilling their ambitions and employability in our ever changing contemporary world.
“We hope you enjoy this publication of Casey Orr’s images that represent a wonderful celebration of youth culture in Blackpool today”Councillor Lynn Williams, Leader of Blackpool Council Carolyn Primett Head of Arts Blackpool Council Victoria Street, Blackpool, 1953 Blackpool, 1963
Saturday Girl About Town Blackpool has been supported by:
Thanks to Winter Gardens Blackpool and Houndshill Shopping Centre for hosting us!
Additional photographs and publication design by Jennifer Skip