Photo exhibition puts captivating focus on Leeds in the 1950s

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A new photo exhibition is set to provide a fascinating snapshot of how Leeds used to live.

The Leeds College of Art exhibition features a series of striking pictures of the city taken by photographer Ralph Wallis during the 1950s.

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Locations that feature in the images going on display at the event include the Headrow, Eastgate and the Queens Hotel.

Also on show will be a life-sized photo of the late and legendary Leeds jazz musician Ed O’Donnell.

Now aged 83 and living in Canada, Leeds-born Ralph began his career as a photographer at the Yorkshire Evening Post before becoming a lecturer at Leeds College of Art.

The exhibition – entitled Is This Seat Taken? – is being curated by his great-niece and former Leeds College of Art student Bianca Wallis-Salmon.

Ralph Wallis.

Ralph Wallis.

Bianca has also produced a photobook charting her great-uncle’s life and work.

Referring to acclaimed painter and former Leeds College of Art student Edna Lumb, Ralph said: “Similar to [her], I found Leeds, with all its soot covered buildings and incredible street children of all shapes and sizes, just screaming out to be photographed.

“In those dark days, which I loved as a young photographer, Leeds was made for us.”

Talking about the photobook, Bianca said: “Ralph has a certain style, his charm and charisma shining through with every click of the shutter.

“His images have a way of transporting your imagination – I sometimes feel I could be looking at a still from Brief Encounter.

“I became enchanted by the bold emotion of the photographs, and felt they needed to be seen, so I embarked on producing this publication, a visual autobiography that showcases his iconic images and also tells the story of his life.

“I feel very proud to have finally brought Ralph’s work into the open and hope people will be equally enamoured with our story.

“Leeds College of Art has been a hugely significant part of my family’s past, present and future.”

The exhibition will run at Leeds College of Art‘s Vernon Street building from this Friday, March 25, to April 20.

A preview evening will be held tomorrow from 5pm to 7pm.

Open to the public, the preview will give people the chance to take a tour of the college’s black and white photography darkrooms. The event is free and booking is not required.

The exhibition is being staged as part of the college’s 170th birthday celebrations.

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