The A41 road links London to Liverpool, passing through a number of key areas of the UK, including towns in the West Midlands. In 2012, The Equality Trust [TET] teamed up with renowned photographer Colin McPherson, a Scot based in Liverpool, to organise a project which demonstrated how income inequality produces wildly different circumstances and situations for towns served by the A41.
Equality West Midlands was one of four regional affiliates to TET who were eager to become involved. The experience opened the group’s eyes to the levels of inequality within the West Midlands in a way dry statistics could never convey. Fiona’s photography, in particular hit home. Fiona chose to concentrate on documenting the variety of shopping experiences found from town to town. Firstly, she visited the Torchwood shopping centre in Solihull, where shops sell high-quality clothing and furniture in a polished environment. Then Fiona encountered a completely different world in West Bromwich- if a failed shop didn’t have the metal shutters closed down over it, then it was one of a variety of bargain shops.
Most shockingly, though, many of Fiona’s photos showed a plague of money shops, pawn brokers and payday loan lenders- it appeared that such organisations were taking advantage of an economic crisis which has had an especially devastating impact on towns such as West Bromwich. Further research showed that in the West Midlands, an all-too-common pattern has developed where shops whose sole business concerns money lending of some description have taken up residence where other industries have retreated. In 2013, a lot of opprobrium has been directed at the likes of Wonga, but Fiona’s pictures served to underline the harsh reality that more *action* needs to be taken to stop the rise of such a harmful and toxic industry.
Other members of the group were heavily involved in the project: Tom snapped a poignant image of a tower block behind a locked iron gate, demonstrating that isolation through inequality can apply in multiple ways; Gilly commissioned a poet friend to produce fragile works which showed that inequality can lead to status anxiety, and force people into difficult circumstances.
Our photographs and accompanying text and poetry were edited into a special section of a newspaper produced specially for the exhibition of the project, and EWM was proud that the exhibition debuted in February at the Public Art Gallery (now sadly closed), in West Bromwich. As we left the exhibition, I could identify buildings that Fiona had snapped- sometimes, art and life are in perfect symmetry.