Interview/ David Chadwick

Cornerhouse Projects, our Café Bar exhibition strand which prioritises affordable art, north west artists and emerging curators, is about to relaunch with a renewed programme this month. The new season will start with Manchester photographer David Chadwick’s fascinating series of photographs captured in regional nightclubs and bars in the late 1970s and early 1980s, We Were All Here, Once.

Presented as soft, black-and-white stills, complete with naturalistic film grain from extended exposure in dark environments, eye-glare, jewellery-flash and enough knitwear to equip a polar expedition, the effect is similar to roe deer captured in car headlights. Or, bearing in mind those determined not to go home without a snog, perhaps in a sniper’s target-sight…

“I was drawn to photographing in clubs because, at that time, that was where young people went to find themselves and their identity: to find companionship and love, to escape,” David says. “They might be at school or college, work or not, but outside these clubs their world was dominated by adults. This was long before computers and mobile phones, so going to a place, which was known to have people who were like-minded, was the way to connect.

“Also, when you’re young, things are so much more vivid. It all matters so – before your life gets clogged up with emptying the dishwasher and paying council tax. So where these young men and women are is so clear: happy, sad, lost and lonely, in love, on the pull – it’s all so obvious.”

The names of the clubs themselves, almost all long gone except The Ritz, reveal the aspirational, other-worldly promise of temporary respite from the mundane, grizzle-and-grey of Manchester’s working week: Rotters, Saturdays, Fagin’s, The No.1 Club, Brahms & Lizt, Cellar Vie, Cloud Nine, Legend, Oscar’s, The Millionaires’ Club, Tropicana, The Playpen.  Every generation has its stomping grounds, and it was here, pre-SMS, pre-email, pre-online forums, that the youth of the city and surrounding suburbs thronged in their thousands to meet the similarly hormone-stung.

“Revisiting these pictures after so long brings something else into play,” says David.  “I’ve always maintained that photos mature with age. Even rubbish pictures gain a value, even if it’s just that all the men are wearing hats.

“Some of these pictures I rejected at the time. They didn’t seem to have much content. But now… some of the outfits are amazing! Was this the last time that fashion came from the street up? Now bands have stylists, who connect with high street brands – it’s a marketing strategy. Back then they were making it up, and later a tamer version appeared in a high street chain.”

Earlier this year we released three advance images from David’s series via Cornerhouse’s online networks and social media channels, in the hope of tracking the people depicted down. One of these images, Girl in a Discotheque, featuring a sylvan young woman gazing into the middle distance in the airline seats at Fallowfield’s Sandpiper Club, is from David’s Looking for Love series, and was included in our opening exhibition, Human Interest, as well as our first ever brochure back in 1985. The image within the original brochure is framed alongside the photographs in We Were All Here, Once, and, even more excitingly, we were successful in tracking its subject down some 30 years later (listen to our interview with Paula Hilton here).

“When Cornerhouse opened it was an important change for the arts community in Manchester,” says David of that period, “it filled a huge cultural gap by representing the here and now. I was thrilled to have my work included in its first exhibition and it seems absolutely fitting to revisit these images here; and it’s wonderful that we’ve also re-connected the young people captured – now in their 50s – with their images from the past.”

Interview by Bren O’Callaghan.

We Were All Here, Once will be the first time David Chadwick’s unique photographs have been displayed together in public, and all the images are available to buy (approximate A3 print, framed with mount, £180). 100 copies of a signed, numbered print of Girl in a Discotheque are also be available, priced £40 (approximate A4 print, framed with mount).

There is an informal launch to toast the exhibition in the Bar from 17:30 on Thu 3 October. If you’re interested in purchasing any of the prints, including the special edition, please speak to our Box Office staff.