This Instameet was inspired by Ikon Gallery’s exhibition Janet Mendelsohn Varna Road which documented everyday life in Balsall Heath during the period of 1967 -1969 whilst Mendelsohn was a student at the University of Birmingham.
I first came across Janet Mendelsohn’s photographs after a talk by Dr Kieran Connell at Balsall Heath WI and I subsequently attended the exhibition Ghost Streets of Balsall Heath at Ort which was the meeting point for today’s Instameet.
After introductions by Ikon Gallery and Igers Birmingham we listened to Ian Francis from Flatpack Festival give a talk about Mendelsohn’s works and show slides which gave us a brief insight into Balsall Heath’s past.
Feeling inspired we headed out to document life in present day Balsall Heath. There was the opportunity to sign up to group tours of Moseley Road Baths however as I had visited fairly recently -see my post here I opted to start of the day by exploring Ort and the surrounding area instead. It was quite fortuitous that Ort were holding an Open Day during the Instameet as it gave me the chance to see areas beyond their cafe and gallery.
My next stop was Balsall Heath City Farm just round the corner from Ort. I love the fact that you can see animals such as chickens and sheep in an urban setting.
My next location was St Paul’s school which my WI group has recently started using as our meeting place. I think it’s such a great building to photograph, some of my fellow Instagrammers led by Ikon’s Emily Luxford agreed and I ended up joining their group. We got chatting to the people who were doing some gardening who kindly unlocked the gate and let us take photographs round the outside of the premises.
Emily then took us on the route that Igers Birmingham and Ikon put together for this event. We were unable to visit many of the locations featured in the exhibition as Janet Mendelsohn visited Balsall Heath during a time when the area was in flux. Since her photographs were taken there was a relentless process of slum clearance in Balsall Heath as such many of the buildings and streets featured in Mendelsohn’s images ceased to exist.
We got to see lots of quirky interesting buildings including the Victorian Urinals! The sun made a brief appearance in an otherwise overcast day when we were looking at the city centre skyline.
Some of the key images in the Varna Road exhibition featured residents of Balsall Heath including a prostitute called ‘Kathleen’ and her family. You could see that Janet who was from America had built up a relationship with the subjects of her images. I’m quite an introverted person so I didn’t take any photos of people, however there are some fantastic portraits on Instagram taken by some of my fellow attendees which you can view using the hashtag #ig_meet_mendelsohn.
I would like to try social documentary photography in the future to try and capture people interacting with their surroundings however on this occasion I was interested in exploring Balsall Heath and seeing what lay beyond Ort and Moseley Road Baths.
N.B – The Instameet took place Saturday 5th March, on the following weekend Ikon Gallery held an archive weekend called Stories of Balsall Heath which included some of the best photographs from the Instameet as you can see below my image of Ort was amongst the images selected!