Photo Stroll LOOK13 Liverpool International Photography Festival Pt 1 – Rankin’s Alive: In the Face of Death

The second edition of LOOK13 Liverpool International Festival (17 May -15 June 2013) opened in May and closed this weekend, but you can still catch some of  the exhibitions taking place in Liverpool.

In collaboration with some of Liverpoolʼs well-known museums and galleries, LOOK/13 presented “a diverse programme of contemporary and historical exhibitions” that includes new work by the portrait photographer Rankin, Alive: In the Face of Death (until 15 September) at the Walker Art Gallery in a show in which he “sets out to explore and challenge our perceptions of death”; rarely-seen early photographs by Martin Parr and Tom Wood in Every Man and Woman is a Star (until 18 August), and Double Take: Portraits from the Keith Medley archive (15 September). Bringing together influential and established photographers, presented alongside international emerging talent, LOOK/13 explored ideas of subjectivity and selfhood, based around the question, ʻwho do you think you are?ʼ.

Today’s post is a Photo Stroll through, Alive: In the Face of Death – a slick offering encompassing a diverse range of photographic approaches to the subject of death, which will also be the subject of a BBC2 Culture Show documentary this summer. The Walker Art Gallery is impressive and the space given over to the show is substantial – there’s even a wall for visitors to record their responses to the show with coloured post-it notes and details of The Dying Matters coalition, an organisation that seeks to encourage more open discussion around dying, death, and bereavement.

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Alongside portraits of those who are terminally ill, or who have faced death, are photographs of people whose business is death  – from a gravedigger and the only UK maker of death masks, to a studio where the ashes of a loved one can be incorporated into cremation tattoos. Rankin’s own responses to the subject feature too, reflected in a series of self portrait, as well as in his ‘life’ masks, including the one captioned, Michael Jackson, which caused some confusion.

From skulls – whether they are Vanitas, Day of the Dead, Damien Hirst or Salvador Dali-influenced ones – to ‘life’ masks, Rankin hones in on familiar symbols of death, borrows heavily from them and then offers back his collection of works beautifully packaged. His heart-shaped display Anne + Roy is a tribute to his now dead parents and the variously-sized photos of his parents mirrors the ongoing fashion in contemporay photography for the vernacular, the personal archive and the family album. Death is an emotive, and often gloomy, subject but in Alive: In the Face of Death, Rankin celebrates life.

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