Salford Museum and Art Gallery's Life Through The Lens works on every level you can think of – the nostalgic, the political, the educational, the geographic, the playful and the hilarious.
Kids will love it, laughing at the photos of grannies sweeping streets in the 1930s, and those rank outfits from the Queens Silver Jubilee Party in the 1970s. There's also a giant camera they can climb inside and a DIY shadow puppet show, where they can make the figures themselves and perform (ask the assistants for materials).
You can also tie your brain in knots explaining to digitally immersed youngsters the workings of the mock photography studio – `first they used to take a photo, then take the film out of the back of the camera and project it onto paper and dip it in chemicals and then hang it up to dry etc'…It's like something out of the old Smash adverts.
To take their minds off the olden days of print photography, a photo of Salford Corporation's official 50s rat catcher Thomas Darbyshire, inspires a game to spot loads of rats hidden around the exhibition.
On a sad political level, the photos show the unfulfilled optimism of past efforts at regeneration in Salford, from half demolished houses in Lower Broughton in 1974 (the photo could have been taken today) to a fairy tale image called New Housing Little Hulton 1951 – and we all know what happened there…
Meanwhile, next to a window looking out onto Peel Park is a photo of how it looked before the University started building on the first public urban park in the country and hemming it in.
But more than anything the exhibition really does capture the spirit of Salford – laughing ladies on the Precinct, people waving from the new footbridge over Broad Street and kids staring with defiance from old street corners and lamp posts.
It's a spirit that remains intact in the modern photos, seen in both the pictures of the new communities that have moved into the city and also in those from the Young People's Photography Project. In the latter, Year 10 pupils from St Ambrose Barlow High School joyfully re-enact the sweeping grannies photo, while an old photo of a posh Victorian man walking in the grounds of Worsley New Hall is spliced together with a modern day hoody by Year 10 pupils from Swinton High School and Year 12 students from Pendleton College.
As the big blown up photos grace the walls and capture attention, there's hundreds more packed into albums showing old Salford streets, shops and characters, plus footage of people's memories on a tv. For the purists there's an exhibition of old cameras. And next to the Lifetimes Project archive den old photos have been mounted for a caption competition…
Those who have curated this exhibition have put some real thought, if not love, into it. And Life Through The Lens deserves to be visited by everyone in Salford.
Life Through The Lens: Snapshots of Salford's Past
Salford Museum and Art Gallery
Peel Park, Crescent, Salford M5 4WU
Phone 778 0800
Open: Mon – Fri 10am-4:45pm
Sat – Sun 1-5pm
The exhibition is on for at least six months from March 2010
Easter Holidays for Kids –
Tues 6th April: Copy Cats – create a version of your fave photo from the exhibition (11am-12pm; 1:30-2:30pm & 2:30-3:30pm). £1 charge per kid
Thurs 8th & 15th April: Photo Collages – make a laminated collage from photos on display (11am-12; 1:30-2:30pm & 2:30-3:30pm). £1 charge per kid
All ages: Free Sessions on Wed 31st March, Wed 28th April and Wed 26th May 2:30pm – Choose your fave photos from the exhibition and discuss in a session (Free but must book in advance – phone 778 0821)