Northerners: Exhibition Review

‘Northerners’ by Rory Lewis at Wex Photo

Written by Meg Parrott

Photography by Ronnie Moore

I confess. I am not originally from the North. So, it seems slightly ironic that I am writing about an exhibition portraying those famous who hail from here. The one thing I know for certain though, is that the North is a hotchpotch of culture, community and creativity; a welcoming hug, it seems, to seas and city’s where diversity and belonging takes precedence.

The extensive alumni of those born here is a pinnacle of such, also aptly recognised by photographer Rory Lewis, whose solo exhibition, ‘Northerner’s,’ at Wex Manchester, showcases intimate portraits of some of these famous faces.

An unassuming camera shop can seem an unorthodox place to pay homage to such striking portraits. Yet, feels entirely natural, being surrounded by the very things that helped initially catalyse this exhibition. Somewhat reminiscent of the Old Masters, the details in Lewis’ series are exquisite: every pore, hair and line is formidable against a simple, dark studio setting. ‘Northerner’s’ captures the raw faces behind the names, as well as highlighting the blue-collar communities that have birthed generations of these recognisable figures: Chester’s Major General Susan Ridge, Liverpool’s Craig Charles, or Edinburgh’s Iain Glen, to name a few.

With such a notable array of subjects including acting powerhouses Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart, the sitters are hardly emerging, but those who have graced international screens, stages or stadiums for decades. The portraits are raw, with astonishing clarity, conveying those Northern born who are championing their fields across social, political and creative realms. But this venture isn’t unbeknownst to Lewis. A freelance photographer since 2007, his work has spanned continents, and brought him face to face with the likes of royals, prime ministers and sporting’s finest. Although first shown five years ago, the exhibition will be shown with new unseen photographs until October 1st at Wex Manchester; the public will also have the opportunity to purchase prints from the exhibition if they wish.

Lewis swiftly separates himself from an often overly contrived field; the art of a portrait can sometimes ignore a sitter’s essence entirely. However, ‘Northerner’s,’ and even Lewis’ body of work in general, convey a poignant pause in a conversation; a glance into the psyche of someone who is largely recognised by a social persona. Lewis’ fluently captures the humbleness that spawns from the heart of these Northern towns, as well as the evident strength that radiates from each of his chosen subjects. Although dividing his time between London and Los Angeles, Lewis hails from Chester and is evidently proud of his roots, resulting in this sensitive yet powerful collection of images.

Taken from the exhibition info – ‘Lewis admits that each shoot brought its own set of challenges, ranging from lighting decisions to coming to terms with directing individuals with legendary status. His first success was a studio session with Manchester-born actor David Warner. Rory’s stunning shot of Warner now hangs permanently in the National Portrait Gallery. More recently, Lewis has worked with several Prime Ministers, including Tony Blair and David Cameron, actors such as Stephen Graham, Iain Glen and Karl Pilkington, as well as Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool.’

With my father and his family being native Glaswegian’s, and with me currently studying at the Manchester School of Art, the apparent sense of community and togetherness in the North has been omnipresent throughout my life. So much so, I wish to make it my permanent home. It seems the perfect microcosm of creatives and hardworking people, where community is welcomed. The North has these connotations for me, and Lewis’ exhibition, in my opinion, seems to embody this perfectly.

‘Northerner’s’ by Rory Lewis is on show at Wex Photo Manchester until Tuesday October 1st 2019, and is free to the public.

Our guest writer is Meg Parrott, a writer, art director and student at the Manchester School of Art. Her area of interests stem from subculture and British youth in particular, as well as the artist communities around her. Follow her on Instagram.

Our guest photographer is Ronnie Moore, a documentary photographer based in Manchester. Currently studying at Manchester Metropolitan University, his work focuses primarily on change, tradition and cultures within British society. Follow him on Instagram.

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