Ghost Streets of Balsall Heath

9-12 July 2015
The Old Print Works, Moseley Road, Balsall Heath
Full event details

During the 50th anniversary celebrations for Birmingham’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 2014, an amazing collection of images came to light. Taken by American photographer and filmmaker Janet Mendelsohn as part of her studies, they document the neighbourhoods of Balsall Heath and Highgate in 1968, at a time of controversy over housing conditions, traveller camps and the sex industry. While all of these issues are touched on by Mendelsohn’s work, her pictures also capture the everyday humanity of these places, teasing out stories that would often be ignored or distorted by media coverage. In particular she was fascinated by the child’s eye view of Balsall Heath, and explored the dizzying freedoms as well as the gnawing poverty that young people experienced at that time.

For the first time a selection of Mendelsohn’s work will be presented as part of a major new exhibition at Ikon Gallery in early 2016. Preparing the ground for this show will be a range of activities designed to illuminate the images and make them more widely accessible, and Flatpack’s contribution will be a temporary installation in the place where many of the photographs were taken. Using images and archive film to map out the huge changes that the area went through in the 60s and 70s, Ghost Streets of Balsall Heath will be partly shaped by the people who come to see it.

Presented in partnership with the University of Birmingham, Queens University Belfast, Library of Birmingham and Some Cities, and supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Images courtesy of Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

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"Great stuff, I have a lot of family legacy in the streets of Balsall Heath and this shows me where my mother would have walked as a girl."

"So many memories of our childhood, no money, no inside toilet or bath, no fridge, we had to set the jelly on the window sill! But we were happy!!! No gadgets, made our own entertainment – interesting as a mixed heritage child how poverty joined us all up as one!"

"Loved it all – so simple at first glance yet very clever and emotive."

"This is an excellent exhibition on social history. I love the map and stories being told. Most of all it’s the conversation this has created."

"Thank you for bringing this exhibition to Balsall Heath. It has brought back memories for all and given the area’s history a new lease of life. It has been wonderful to hear members of the local community tell their stories about being born and raised in the area; recollecting the great economic, social and political changes. The good, the bad and the ugly sides that took place at the time. I feel from looking at these pictures that I understand my father a lot better now. Thank you."