Shirley Baker:Women,Children and Loitering men

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    meg cumming

    Just read in today’s “I” paper that there’s an exhibition on at the Photographer’s Gallery about this outstanding photographer. I haven’t logged on to see what her work looks like, but is very reminiscent of Fred (Bert) Hardy’s city/street scenes. The exhibition covers the 1960’s to the 1980’s, makes you feel as though we should be covering more of our life as history for future posterity.



    60 s. To. 80s era worth recording, but today’s sad people not worth a click of the camera. Scruffy top skinhead men and tattooed woman ,no thanks.


    Ian McNab

    When we look at a lot of very evocative photographs of our past, we see pictures that must, to the photographer at the time, have been very ordinary, ever-day scenes. People like Bill Brandt and Robert Frank had the advantage of being ‘strangers in a strange land’, so that they would be surprised, shocked or puzzled by things that to ‘locals’ would have been invisibly ordinary. And perhaps something of the same ‘strangeness’ enables British documentary photographers to ‘see’ life in social groups and communities different from their own (skinheads; tattooed women; young people; landed gentry; etc) with a similar clarity.

    I’ve been wondering how we would document our own communities with this sort of freshness. How do we photograph ‘ordinary’ Crewe or Nantwich or Sandbach with the sense of surprise, amusement or puzzlement that a foreigner might bring? Perhaps it’s not possible, of course – unless you are either very creative, or are able to see the world with the freshness and wonder of a four-year-old!

    Shirley Baker’s photographs of Manchester in the 1960s depict a world that was familiar and ordinary to me then (or at least in 1955-60 as a working class youngster about to change social class, as many of us did, by going to grammar school). I doubt I’d have noticed those scenes, let alone taken them as something worth photographing (even if I’d had such a luxury as a camera!). Without Shirley Baker and her like, we wouldn’t now have such powerful evocation of that long-gone life and time.



    All so true, Ian. I feel a little disappointed that the local history groups seem only interested in artefacts and not people. Pictures taken by Ron Smith, Ken Last, the young girl who professed interest in “capturing Crewe” who we met at the Crewe Festival, everyone with shots of Crewe’s streets past and present is preserving history just as much as me taking a couple of hundred shots of Ludford St school before they pulled it down.

    In fact, collections like Shirley Baker’s, are far more interesting to people generally than any pictures of dead buildings. Photos like Shirley’s tell us just what we were like, how we dressed, how we behaved, what our environment was like and how we used it. (Even if it had never occurred to you to swing on a lamppost ladder rest!). They are endlessly fascinating in their own right and can possess qualities which go far beyond pure record. They will always be of interest. Our humble snappings equally. In fact they will become more interesting as time goes by.

    It is a truism that we record history every time we press the shutter but if we are recording people; at work, play, at events, outside or indoors we probably have the richest subject of all.

    Below, the lady herself (she died last year I think) and my favourite photo of hers – she must have liked it too as it is on the cover of her book.

    I’ve said before that scenes like Shirley’s have been taken by lots of club photographers but what has happened to them? Howard took pictures of Liverpool Docks (but we only saw his studio portraits), Keith Wild (Nantwich CC) had shots like this too (see Nantwich CC Website banner).


    Shirley Baker



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