Tell It Like It Is

*Project in progress, new responses & work added every month*

Join in
- Free lockdown workshops
- Open Eye exhibition 
- Get in touch


- Walks: audio, maps, video
- Acknowledgements
Creative commons

- View all photography by Ian Clegg 1978-80

New takes

- Your responses 
- Writing by Laura Robertson 

︎  ︎  ︎

Exploring and developing skills in photography, writing and storytelling

1978-80, now, in-between, underneath, forging ahead, falling through

All along the grand avenue, winding through terraced streets and back towards town: mature trees, demolition-site racetracks, unexpected conversations...

When you look at a photograph, what do you see? What is valuable? What is present? What is missing?

‘Tell it like it is’ is a collaborative heritage and community project by artist Ian Clegg and writer Laura Robertson, that aims to explore and develop skills in photography, writing and storytelling.

It starts with a box of over 100, previously unseen, black and white images of Liverpool and Birkenhead, taken by Ian between 1978-80, kept under his bed for forty years and only recently dusted off. After a conversation about what historic images have to say about Liverpool’s past, present and future, Ian shows the photographs to Laura.

The pair ask: can old photographs become a catalyst for new images and new stories? Can we ever escape old stereotypes and established narratives? What happens when we write about these images now?

Now: 2020-2021

Our pilot ‘Tell It Like It Is’ programme takes three stages:
  • An exhibition of archive photography and new writing: ‘L — A City Through Its People’ at Open Eye Gallery, 2 December 2020 until March 2021 (free entry), during which we’l collab
  • Workshops: free, lockdown-friendly winter workshops invite you to reflect on these 100 archive photographs and co-create new images and creative/critical writing in response. As a group, we will share our own experiences about where we live, in our own words, in our own way
  • A celebratory event, to be decided by the workshop group, 2021.

Ian, larking about with cameras (1978)

Then: 1978-1980

The teenager who took these photographs was studying at Wolverhampton Polytechnic in 1978.

His first camera was bought from a shop on Park Road, Toxteth, by his parents as a 14th birthday present. These images were taken using a second-hand Nikon loaded with Ilford HP5 black and white film, which he saw as an upgrade.

At the weekend, every weekend, he and his sister visited their grandparents at 12 Voelas Street. They stayed when their Mum got put in hospital. They moved around what was known as the Welsh Streets: to 19 Voelas Street, and then Elwy Street, and then Rhiwlas Street.

The teenager would walk from Toxteth, through the Baltic Triangle, along the Queens and Albert Docks, and get the ferry to Birkenhead, and he would take photographs along the way. 

He couldn’t predict the future. He could only record what he could, where he could, when he could, with the resources he had available.

Time passed. He has never shown them to anyone until now.

When he looks at the photographs, he is struck by several thoughts:

This place has changed almost beyond recognition.

This place has not changed one bit.

I am a different human being.

If he walked this same route now, the photographs and the stories that they represent would be doing a different job, in another context, in a new world.

He wonders what photographs are gathering dust under other people’s beds. He wants to see them and know their stories.

He wants others to tell it like it is about Liverpool, to trouble his memories and to stir-up what he thinks he knows.
Acknowledgements and huge thanks

‘Tell It Like It Is’ has been funded (exhibition, research and development) by key partner Open Eye Gallery: a photography gallery and archive in Liverpool, established in 1977. Open Eye is taking a lead on socially engaged photography nationally. Bringing different voices, photographers and communities together, they establish projects where the collaborative process is just as important as the final product.

Workshop funding from Awesome Liverpool: £500, no-strings-attached mini-grants to cool projects that will make the world – and Liverpool – more Awesome!

Further learning and support from:
  • Writing on the Wall (WoW), a writing and literature organisation which hosts Liverpool’s longest running and nationally acclaimed literature festival
  • StoryLab skills training research initiative, which develops creative voices in pursuit of meaningful cultural contributions.


Ian and Laura are creative practitioners whose experience spans art, design and writing. Laura is originally from Anfield, has lived in Toxteth and currently lives in Dingle, Liverpool; Ian is originally from Wavertree, has lived in Toxteth and now lives in Ulverston, Cumbria.

Ian Clegg designs and delivers alternative photographic process workshops, specialising in reintroducing forgotten skills and co-creating artworks as ATIC studios. The artwork responds to daily life and public collections; most recently, an ‘Urban Moth’ exhibition (2018) at the Manchester Museum explored their strategy on extinction, through public cyanotype workshops; and the Whittaker Gallery’s ‘Northern Willow’ project (2020) was a photo-ceramic intervention in its permanent collection that reflected present-day local cultures. Ian has an MA in Photography from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), and is currently researching a PhD on the relationship between artisans and the photographic image. 

Laura Robertson is a writer, art critic and editor for international magazines, including frieze, Hyperallergic, Art Monthly, ArtReview, a-n and Elephant, and a guest critic on BBC Four Front Row. She is the first Critical Writer-in-Residence at Open Eye Gallery. She works with other writers and editors, artists, galleries, colleges, universities and communities to explore writing as a creative practice. Laura co-founded The Double Negative online magazine in 2011, and has been commissioning and platforming Northern people, projects and places ever since – including under-represented and early-career culture writers. She has recently graduated from the MA Writing programme, Royal College of Art, London. Portfolio here.

Featured quote: new writing by Laura Robertson

Tell It Like It Is: images by Ian Clegg and words by Laura Robertson.
Project funded, supported and championed by Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, with huge thanks.