In late 2014, I was nominated via public vote to sit in “The One chair” along with 17 other “cultural heroes” ( not my description). The project was the brain child of photographer Sam Ryley:
“The One chair itself is a project about finding forward thinking folk in Chester that are pushing the contemporary culture of the city forwards. by doing that we are able to find who those people are and put a network together. There are a lot of people that do a lot of Chester and they tend to work on their own, they’re very individual about it. Using those people as points of contact for people that don’t know what’s going on. I’m trying to put those people, and the creative industry, in front of the business community and the council. To say “look at all the talent you have in your city”
“I needed one thing that was constant, to bring everyone into the same, a common denominator in every photo. They were all shot in my studio in my chair.” It took a while to bring the project together, Sam explained to me before the launch of the exhibition at 61 Watergate row : “The main hurdle was getting the idea across to the right people, and then getting a decision made. Its really hard to get a piece of land or a property. ” The portraits will be up for 2 months and a co working hub run by @IndustryChester will be running alongside. Industry will be running workshops , and freelancers, students, small businesses and anyone creative are encouraged to come along and get involved. Sam hopes that the coworking hub will bring creative people together to collaborate.
At a packed launch night it was great to see the fruits of Sam’s hard work , and all of the portraits , which are fantastic character studies. My portrait depicts me as an anonymous and unseen social media “presence” lurking Bond villain like from behind the chair, hand outstretched.
The gallery is a who’s who of creative talent in Chester covering many fields of experience with Sam commenting that .”I think we have a good bunch represented on the walls”
On show are parade master Russell Kirk, former Sun’s front man Jono Robertson, cultural lynch pin Matt Baker, Chester fringe founder Mark Williams and many others. Each picture tells a Chester success story, from Telfords, Sticky Walnut, the Chefs table, the food assembly, the giants and beyond. As I browsed the exhibition it occurred to me how far the city has moved on in the last few years, with a new spirit of positivity and different organisations coming together and actually talking to each other. Theres no doubt this increased fluidity has been increased by the growth of social media. On a personal level, looking around the room there were several of the Chair subjects whom I knew as friends, or had interviewed for this blog.
Magician John Holt, entertained the crowd with card tricks and usual witty banter: “The photographs are awesome……. What else ?… I like chips and pasties, knitting and needlework…. Its a really good turnout . I was talking to the guys before and they were talking about the battle they had to set it up , its great people are coming down to support it. I love it, that’s why I’m here. Its great to be part of a group of people who are really pushing to make a difference and will go the extra mile to make these things happen.”
Steve from Minerva Lodge Tattoo parlour , one of the Chair portraits said that it had been a privilege to be involved . ” We have only been here a short amount of time, just coming up to two years. to be even considered was a great privilege. Since the day we have been here we have always wanted to be involved in local businesses , which is hard thing to do when you’re just starting up yourself. We believe, the same as Sam, if we keep on supporting, keep on connecting with each other we can keep on growing.
Of the change in Chester culture over the last two years he said that, “I think people have really started to push independents and push each other. I remember coming here 5- 10 years ago, when Chester was really struggling, and really on hard times. We had slight reservations when we first came and we were hoping it was on the up, and it is. I think it goes without saying that its moving onto bigger and better things.”
In a short speech Tom Whitley from the co working hub praised Sam for his drive and ambition and said that it was common for Cestrians to look to the past, with rose tinted glasses. He said that often people were more interested in “getting back to where it used to be” instead of looking forward and moving on with new foundations. “The past is in the past.. and rather than lamenting what’s missing we’re more interested in trying to contribute what we can…”
As I left the exhibition my closing thought was that Chester can be whatever it wants to be…
The One Chair exhibition opens to the public on Monday 15th Feb at 61 Watergate st row south