As Seen in Manchester: The Society of the Spectacles

As Seen in Manchester: The Society of the Spectacles

Having been open quite a while, we’ve accumulated some pretty fascinating customers over the years. So we thought, instead of going on about us and our glasses, we’d shine the spotlight on the people that wear them for a change…

Manchester’s home to its fair share of amazingly creative people. From some of the biggest names in music to a raft of lesser known creative types, there’s a whole world of creativity going on that gives Manchester a unique buzz and makes it such an interesting place to live.

We’re pretty pleased to say that two of the kingpins of Manchester’s creative scenery, Robert Hamilton and Sue Platt, are also some of Seen’s more regular customers. Both lecturers at the School of Art at Manchester Metropolitan University, they're creative types that share our love of original and independent eyewear and are even founding members of an eyewear appreciation group, The Society of the Spectacles.

As the people behind the hugely popular exhibition, ‘Strelnikov’s Glasses and Other Stories’, which took place at Manchester’s HOME gallery last year, we thought we'd grab the pair of them for a photoshoot and ask Sue some questions about their specs, style, and favourite Manchester hangouts. Here it goes...

"They give me an added confidence when I teach. They become part of a costume that I create to get through the day."- SP

Hi Robert and Sue. Rumour has it you’re the people behind The Society of the Spectacles. What is The Society of the Spectacles exactly?  

The Society of the Spectacles is a creative research group that looks at the role of eyewear in film, art and contemporary culture. Its title is an ironic take on the famous Guy Debord theoretical book The Society of the Spectacle.

Robert set up the society in 2011. He’s a lecturer in film and Media at Manchester Metropolitan University and he thought of the idea after seeing Gene Barry wearing some fabulous glasses as a scientist in the 1950s The War of The Worlds film. The glasses helped define the character – and from there Robert and I became interested in doing projects that celebrate eyewear in contemporary culture. We teach full time so it’s very much something we do as research – we don’t even have a web site – but we are working on it.

The Society of Spectacles - Rob and Sue interview for Seen

If this article in the Guardian is anything to go by, The Society of the Spectacles has just put on an exhibition all about specs in film at Manchester’s HOME. Tell us more about ‘Strelnikov’s Glasses and Other Stories’, why you decided to do it, and how it all went.

This was our third project and we wanted to initially do something that related to the centenary of the Russian Revolution – Robert had watched David Lean’s epic Dr. Zhivago and was interested in how Tom Courtenay’s character, Pasha Antipov changed from a mild-mannered student activist to becoming the severe revolutionary general Strelnikov in the film … his glasses are initially wire rimmed, but as Strelnikov he wears thick steel rimmed glasses.

"We nearly got on Radio 4’s The Today programme but were bumped by Hurricane Harvey at the last minute!" - SP

We developed a project inviting 24 artists, designers and filmmakers to make a piece of work about glasses, or the wearer of glasses in a film of their choice. It was interesting to see the range of films the contributors responded to – from Blade Runner to When Harry Met Sally. Robert emailed Sir Tom Courtenay to see if he had any significant memories of the spectacles he wore in Dr. Zhivago. He didn’t, but he wrote a charming email that formed part of Robert’s piece for the exhibition.

The exhibition was really popular. We were featured in The Guardian and the online version of the article had over 42 thousand views before the show even opened! We nearly got on Radio 4’s The Today programme but were bumped by Hurricane Harvey at the last minute!  We presented the show as part of Pecha Kucha Manchester and did various tours – including one for The British Council. We are currently trying to find a new venue for the show to tour to and would love it to be part of a film festival, maybe with some screenings. Gosh we were even in Optician Magazine!

The Society of Spectacles - Sue Platt

Sue's sporting her pair of Theo Pussy in Black

HOME’s not the only cool spot we’ve got here in Manchester. Where are your favourite places to go in our fair, rainy home city? Where would you two spend your ideal Saturday?

It’s hard to move us from Home as we both love watching films. We have recently discovered Mackie Mayor on Ancoats as a place to lunch, although Robert is a faithful Saturday diner at Jasmine in Chorlton where he can be found lunching every Saturday. We are fond of Gorilla on Whitworth Street as an alternative drinking space and I’ve been going to Croma in the city centre for what seems like an eternity.

I love sitting in Ezra and Gil on Hilton Street – it makes me feel like I’m in the East Village in New York – good tea and a lovely atmosphere. Robert is the Opera Correspondent for Northern Soul (an online magazine) so we enjoy the regular excursions to The Lowry or RNCM. We stay in on Saturday night though … that’s for down time…curry and Scrabble!

You both work as lecturers at Manchester School of Art, a university whose alumni includes the likes of Lowry, photographer Martin Parr, and designer Sarah Burton to name just a few. Who are the fresh-faced creatives that you think are the next leaders of Manchester’s uniquely creative heritage? Anyone we should know about?

I have some interesting graduates from the Graphics course. Look out for Marc Hagan-Guirey also known as Paper Dandy. Check out his Horrorgami Book. Phoebe Sing is a wonderful young designer and Art Director who’s working on Twin Magazine. I enjoy looking at the work of John Allison and Chris Bovill – they were recently in charge of the Channel 4 graphics and did a lovely Skoda advert a few years back – a car baked of cake … it’s lovely to see how far they have travelled since graduating.

The people in the exhibition are interesting practitioners too. All of whom have Manchester as a connection though some live in Chicago and San Francisco now… Check out the work of our society designer Graham Jones who works as Loose Collective - a great graphic designer and a graduate of the course!

Society of the Spectacles Interview - Rob Hamilton

Robert's wearing a dashing pair of Mykita Collection 2

Tell us how you both got into independent eyewear and how you discovered Seen.

We have always liked style. Robert’s worn glasses since the age of 16 and has always worn interesting glasses. He came across Seen purely by chance and was immediately impressed by the stylish range they had and the friendliness and expertise of the staff. Between us we have at least ten pairs of glasses from there. 

Why do you think glasses are important and how do you make them work for your style?

Glasses can create or change your image – that’s why we are interested in their role in films.  We are lucky to be able to afford some stylish pairs, but as we are both involved in art and design I think they are important as part of the image we project. If you wear glasses every day it’s worth spending some time finding a pair that help define your character or maybe the fun is to create illusions of a character.

I love my Theo glasses as they make me feel like a superhero when I wear them – they give me an added confidence when I teach. They become part of a costume that I create to get through the day. Robert rotates four pairs of glasses according to his mood and outfit that day. It’s fun.

The Society of Spectacles - Rob Hamilton and Sue Platt

You’re both regular SEEN customers. Tell us about the last frames you bought from us.

I have just bought a lovely pair of Niloca glasses. They are beautiful, like little binoculars. Robert’s last pair was a pair of Mykita frames.

Is there a pair of frames you’ve both got your eye on for next time?

Robert always likes a good pair of Oliver People’s glasses – they seem ageless and always stylish. I’m about to get some fluorescent pink Theo Pussy Sunglasses to add to my superhero collection.

Do you think you can have too many glasses?

Never !!!

Who’s your favourite designers at the moment?

I’ve been interested in the Niloca range since my recent purchase – they are beautifully made and fun without being distracting. I’ve been looking at the Jacques Marie Mage collection as modelled by Erika on Seen's Instagram – they look really great.

What’s coming up for The Society of the Spectacles? Any more exciting exhibitions we should know about?

We are just resting after quite a busy time – but are in contact with some venues regarding touring the show – we are also interested in any outlets on the optical circuit. We would really like to work with Seen again. We did a project with them a few years ago and they really helped us in promoting the recent exhibition at HOME. In the meantime, we shall work on a website!!

Wow, touring the show would be great. We reckon the world needs to see more of The Society of the Spectacles, that's for sure.

Well, that's all we've got time for. Thanks for dropping by and letting us take some pictures. Keep up the good work! We'll see you both in the shop sometime soon.

If you want to keep up to date with Robert, Sue, and The Society of the Spectacles, make sure you check on the #TheSocietyoftheSpectacles hashtag on Instagram.