Review by George Longland, Arts Development Officer at Guildford Borough Council
(Manchester International Arts (2000) ISBN 0 953798100 £20 [£24.10 inc p&p*])
Being asked to review this book meant that I finally had to take it off the shelf and read it. Having said that, I already knew it was one of the most creative and inspirational books upon the aforementioned shelf. The reason for this can be summed up in one word: photographs. In excess of 80 pages of dynamic, sexy, magical, explanatory, exploratory, captivating, motivational photographs that stir the soul and excite the various juices that lead us all to develop, watch, fund, promote or participate in street arts.
Playing with Fire takes us through the context and development of the Streets Ahead Street Arts Festival held in and around Manchester over six years between 1995 and 2000. Taking four perspectives – those of audience member, performer, organiser and photographer – the book offers a beautiful record in word and picture of an initiative that continues to live on, not just in the memories of those who were involved, but with every festival, event or celebration that has happened because of Streets Ahead. This is not a how-to book; this is a why-to book.
Playing with Fire offers us an insight into an artform in which “the only barriers to participation are in our imagination” and I would recommend it to anyone who loves street arts, to anyone who loves to laugh, cry, be soaked in foam or stalked by puppets - to anyone who loves photographs. Oh, just anyone really.
We are reminded that “things which come freely are usually the most valuable”. That includes the wonder of street arts. It doesn’t include the book though.