Interview with Jane MacNeil

As part of Affecting Change Liverpool based photographer has engaged with the North Docks community – its people and places. These images are included with Jane’s permission.


PR: How did you get started with photography?

JM: I was always interested in it. When I left school I applied to Liverpool Community College to do their Photography course but they said I’d have to go and do an Art Foundation course which I didn’t want to do. I was 16 – a year was too long to wait. So I went to work with my Dad who was a Compositor in a Printers. I was a trainee as a print-finisher. I ended up working in the Print industry for 23 years. I carried on doing photography in that time through night school classes. In work when I went on messages round London Road I took my camera with me. I processed the images myself and used my bedroom…


PR: How does your relationship with Liverpool form you as an artist?

JM: I’ve been to other places, of course. I went to New York, the home of street photography, but didn’t feel as comfortable as I do in Liverpool. Here you can go out at any time and life is there. I am thinking of the History of the city – like with the pictures of the Futurist on Lime Street being demolished. I am interested in work that has the quality of journalism and the intimacy of portraiture.


PR: How would you describe your work?

JM: Definitely street photography – that’s my drive. But I have branched off into portraiture. I could describe myself as a journalist if I wanted to. But when you’re walking the same streets, much as I love it – it does get exhausting so I do other stuff too. Like commissions or projects, with organisations and people who ask. Or particular ideas or events that interest me. Doing other stuff recalibrates the eye for street photography.


PR: So does street photography really mean the city streets?

JM: Yes. I’m from Walton and it’s different doing work around where you live. Also the demographics in other places don’t work in the same way. There are not that many people about. With street photography you’re looking for places that are densely populated with people.


PR: Yet I noticed with some of your ‘Out of the Blue’ images you removed the litter, the evidence of people?

JM: Out of the Blue Festival was different to the Litter GIFs. Litter GIFs was just a little personal project. I was working in Everton Park on a commission, taking some photographs of someone who was visiting the city when I noticed all the litter, it was embarrassing. I went back a few days later, photographed the area and made some GIFs to highlight the problem.


PR: I noticed the letter you wrote on your blog responding to a request to do unpaid work which was interesting in terms of respect for artists…?

JM: There has to be some benefit to work especially if there’s no monetary return – perhaps something of interest to me, in developing my practice.


PR: How did you get involved in Open 3?

JM: I attended the Commissioning for Change event at the Victoria Gallery and Museum where I met and talked to Sarah. I told her about the work I was doing for Coming Home (, a commission from Ronnie Hughes and Jayne Lawless. Their mission is to fill all of Liverpool’s 9000 empty properties – to see them lived in. They’ve finished the first house and have acquired 18 in Anfield. I’ve followed what they’ve been doing. The original idea was to maybe do one day a month – but it’s moved to as and when it fits in. It’s a good project, one of social engagement and it sits well alongside street photography. It’s still Liverpool. My work is quite wide-ranging. Street photography, documentary work, social engagement, commissions (like METAL and Homebaked). …I’m aware of the Culture Shifts project at Open Eye Gallery. Sarah introduced me to Thomas and we agreed to keep in touch. I got the call 2 weeks ago to see if I could step in to do something with the North Docks Community group. It was a bit like a commission because the framework was already there. So I hit the ground running …last Monday.


PR: Can you tell me a bit about the North Docks Community Group?

JM: They’re linked to the Ten Streets initiative – a big cultural- economic development project around Great Howard Street and Regent (‘the dock’) Road – the Stanley dock area. Similar to the work around the Baltic area. I’ve been taking pictures of the buildings and asking the businesses if I can take portraits. One place, Adams, a food whole-salers, is in the building where I worked for 7 years for a printing firm. I spent a day with them, was given a tour of the building. When I worked there I used to go to The Bull for my lunch. The Manager of Adams, John, has been there for 15 months and he seems to know everyone… he’s very active in the Community group.


PR: How long will it take you to put the exhibition together?

JM: It’s done. I have 82 images. Do you want to see them? (Jane showed her images)
This is the Invisible Wind Factory – it’s run by the team that ran the Kasimier. It’s an arts space that has events…there’s a mix of environmental portraits as well as people…
This is one of the mechanics…a lot of the garages round there repair taxis – it’s the work they took on when Tate and Lyle closed – as they used to look after all of Tate’s haulage trucks.  This is NORTHSHORE another music venue.
A welder, a paintshop, Meraki, Vulcan studies, IBS – they sell old office furniture…..this will be apartments – I think it’s once of the largest red brick buildings in Europe, here – the green doorway is the spot of the famous Bob Dylan photo from 1966, this couple were attending a gig – it seemed a good mix….these are in Adams…John really has embraced the area. He was at the gig on Friday with his wife.  This has been a short project, I’ve worked very intensively, it’s a great way of working. When Thomas rang me on the Monday morning to get started I had to tell him: “I’m already here.”


PR: How will you develop your work from the exhibition?

JM: There’s a new initiative setting up around the ‘Fabric’ district (London Road) where the Coming Home exhibition will be shown in September. I’ve earmarked a couple of photos I’ve done of plasterers – there will be other artists showing work. The space will be in the old Taylor’s building – we’re calling it the ‘dead pigeon’s gallery’ at the moment and the name might stick. Through sharing information about Open 3 I’ve also been contacted about doing some work in Islington.


PR: Do you have a favourite camera?

JM: For commissions I use a DSLR Canon – it won’t let you down. For street photography I use a Micro 4/3.


PR: On your blog you have some very interesting recent images of faces emerging from shadow – can you say a little about them?

JM: That focus on faces was done on Hanover Street. There’s a little unit next to Herbert’s that’s in complete darkness so on a bright sunny day from about 2pm – 3.30 pm when there’s a strong sun, the light is good for taking the photos. I’m going to do these for as long as I can… When you do street photography the other work feeds ideas. I did a personal project at the Royal Court where I spent a lot of time back stage. Seeing the light on the actor’s faces as they waited in the wings led me to the solution for Hanover Street as I thought: that’s what I’ll do with the faces…


PR: What about influences on your work?

JM: There’s no one single influence. If I spend some time with a photographer’s
work, it seeps in. One of my favourite photographers is Alec Soth from
Minnesota. He has a huge interest in poetry – it influences his work. I did
a workshop here with Cristina de Middel a couple of years ago. She was a newspaper photographer. She’s just been nominated as a Magnum photographer. Her big breakthrough was her Afronauts book. She takes a story and photographs it. At the workshop here she asked us to go out and photograph the story of the aliens landing in Liverpool. There were 9 of us and we worked intensively for two and a half days and produced a ‘book’ – well a dummy book, but it shows what you can do…


PR: Is there any thing else you’d like to share about the North Docks work?

JM: Just that it was a privilege. I was just getting into the groove, loving every minute of it and it calibrates your eye to go back to the street.