Flatpack Festival
Film, and then some

Frank and Val

Ian Francis
Thursday 2nd May, 2019 Posted by Ian Francis

Yet again I haven't got round to writing a Flatpicks blogpost this year, but if I have to single something out then one of the Flatpack 2019 events which excites me most is tucked away in the MAC on Saturday evening.

A young American perhaps keen to avoid the Vietnam draft, Richard P Rogers took up a place at Birmingham University's Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in autumn 1967. Like his then girlfriend Janet Mendelsohn (who you may remember from our Ghost Streets project) he quickly began to use his camera as a tool in his research, and in early 1968 he got talking to a Brummie artist called Frank Cook in the darkroom at the Midlands Arts Centre. Frank and his wife Val had recently moved from Ladywood over to Balsall Heath, leaving behind an area that was being steadily flattened as part of an enormous redevelopment plan and moving into a more bohemian world of painting, patchouli oil and parties.

Intrigued by this journey, Rogers began to take pictures of the couple's daily lives. Photographing intensively over the course of six months, he recorded the studio spaces at MAC, the disappearing streets of Ladywood, the Hawthorns ground (where West Bromwich Albion were en route to FA cup glory) and the city's flourishing social scene. He also interviewed Frank and Val about their experiences and their hopes for the future.

These images had barely been seen for half a century before we showed a selection at the MAC as part of last year's festival. Many came forward with their own memories of that time, including some who appeared in the pictures, but we were unable to track down the lead characters in this story. Then at the beginning of this year Jess Litherland in the exhibitions department at MAC got a message from a Mr Frank Cook, now living in the south of France and still happily married to Val fifty years on.

I called them a couple of days later, perhaps a little over-familiar with a couple that I'd never met but who I felt I knew intimately thanks to Richard Rogers and his camera. They were delighted to see the images again, and decided to make a trip back to their hometown. On Saturday they'll be reuniting with some old friends, and reflecting on a pivotal moment in their lives. Rogers sadly died in 2001. His wife, the award-winning Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas, has done a brilliant job of looking after and digitising his work and this event would not have been possible without her support.

Part of our ongoing HLF-supported project Birmingham 68, the event also includes an opportunity to see rare footage of an anti-racism march which took place in Victoria Square in May 1968, a couple of weeks after Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech. These two strands and many others will be tied together in a book which we'll launch this summer.

Birmingham 68 Revisited
Saturday 4 May 2018, 6pm at MAC

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