Powerhouse Portraits: celebrating the everyday in Moss Side, Manchester

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By Brontë Schiltz
Moss Side, a predominantly working-class and ethnically diverse part of Manchester, has faced decades of biased press.
In 2018, a BBC news article noted that the area “has historically had a reputation for being a neighbourhood of gangs and gun crime” – but also, quoting historian Dr Charlotte Wildman, “a flourishing suburb where diversity is celebrated”, home to “strong communities”.
Now, a photography project at Moss Side’s Millennium Powerhouse, a community centre in the heart of the area, is aiming to bring those aspects of its surroundings to light.
Powerhouse Portraits combines a 30-year retrospective from local photographer Ian Johns with a community project through which 40 local participants were given 99 disposable cameras, sketchbooks and notebooks to document their community. These photographs are displayed on the walls of the Powerhouse and compiled in a limited-edition magazine.
“It’s time they were given a platform and taken seriously,” says Kooj Chuhan of partner organisation Crossing Footprints, which uses creative processes to work towards human rights, environment, equality and wellbeing. “There’s a huge number of people who have walked through and said, ‘Oh, hang on, isn’t that so-and-so?’ or, ‘I remember that!’

“Low-income communities, generally, are poorly documented, and whenever people do heritage projects, they say, ‘Okay, we can do oral history projects with people, but where are the visuals?’ Suddenly, we’ve got an area of Manchester that somebody bothered to document. It’s a really important community, too – it’s the Brixton of Manchester.”

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