Embarrassing, maybe, well OK yes, but I confess to never having previously heard of Chris Killip. I just pop into the Photographer’s Gallery on an as and when basis with no real idea what to expect.
Sometimes I am underwhelmed or fail to ‘get it’. However, not on this occasion. I have rarely seen a collection of photographs that have produced such a deep emotional response.
These are pictures from the 1970’s and 1980’s of life in the Northeast of England and the Isle of Man, but not a life I could have known. These pictures feel that they are from a layer somewhere apart from ordinary life, yet ordinary life they are.
These are photographs of working people confronting everyday life – there is no nostalgia. I may have thought I knew something of life in the 70/80s, but the comfort of my own South-eastern upbringing meant I was shielded from the life portrayed in this show. However, it is not all grime, for amongst it all, Chris Killip shows a deep affection with ordinary humanity.
Some images linger in the mind; the one of workmen simply going somewhere traversing a semi derelict landscape, a group of farmers at a farm auction (all dressed the same and seeming to be sharing the sadness of a fellow farmer’s misfortune), a photographic series of rows of Victorian terraces with a ship being built at the end of the street, then the ship disappears and the place declines. There is a powerful series of photographs from Lynemouth showing discarded power station coal being collected from the beach.
To achieve these photographs Chris Killip had to win the trust of the community and live among them. The show moved me so much that I had to go back and view the show again!
The other show, which occupies just one room, is by Aarati Akkapeddi – who took his own family’s photo album as a starting point and then explored the output of the photography studios of the Tamil Nadu region of South India 1880-1980. The pictures are grouped by the conventions of Tamil Studio photography and then combined, by algorithms, into single composite images. The results are quite ghostly and beautiful.
Both shows are highly recommended.