There is an exhibition on at Manchester Art Gallery at the moment which I have been longing to check out, and I finally managed to escape the kids and have a mooch. Not that a trip to a gallery with the kids in tow isn't enjoyable, but well, let's just say you don't exactly get to take everything in.
Simple pleasured portayed in Shirley Baker's photos
Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men, is an exhibition of photographs taken during the 1960s and 1970s in the areas of Salford and Manchester. It was a time of considerable upheaval, where entire streets were being demolished as part of the urban clearance programme.
Shirley was stunned by what she saw, and sought to capture everyday life before their way of living was wiped out. She comments, "Whole streets were disappearing and I hoped to capture some trace of the everyday life of people who lived there. I wanted to photograph the mundane, even trivial aspects of life not being recorded by anyone else, rather than the organised and official activities."
During the clearance, families were separated, with people not being given a choice of where they were relocated and who with. The outrage that Shirley Baker felt is apparent through her work. To achieve the shots, she spent years wandering the streets, capturing the life that she saw. She is thought to be the only female street photographer working in post-war Britain.
Children were required to raise their younger siblings
People were happy to be photographed by Shirley as she wandered in their midst. She was considered to be one of them because she spent so much time there. There is a short video which is shown in the gallery which goes into further detail about how Shirley Baker became a photographer, and about her work on this project and what was happening during this period.
The photos themselves are shocking at times, and incredibly mundane at others. The poverty and the different way of life that is portrayed is in stark contrast to our lives today. These are houses without gardens, where children's swings are hung in doorways or on lampposts, and children climb through rubble for fun. Washing is hung between houses and children were expected to wander the streets looking after their younger siblings whilst their parents were at work.
People have maked where they lived during this period
Yet it also captures a time when neighbours happily "loitered" together, and what struck me was the huge smiles on the children's faces as they simply hung out together. There were none of the restrictions and restraints that are put on today's children with not a single X-Box in site (although there is a frighteningly realistic toy gun pictured.)
As you wander through the photographs, make sure you pick up a free audio guide as you go in, as it gives you a greater insight to what you are looking at. They are incredibly easy to use; simply point them at a picture to hear an account from people of the era talking about their lives during this period.
I found the whole exhibition incredibly moving and I am so pleased I was able to visit. My own grandparents lived in Ancoats with my mum and uncles at this time, and I felt I was seeing just a glimpse of what life could have been like for them. There is a map displayed in the gallery, where people can mark where they lived at the time.
Also worth mentioning is that on the 22nd and 23rd July 2017, Manchester Art Gallery will be holding Record a Memory Weekend, where they are inviting people to come along with a younger relative or friend, and make their own audio recording in response to the exhibition. They are hoping to use this as a contribution to a second version of the audio guide which will be launched on the 29th July.
If you have been inspired to visit the exhibition, Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men is on at the Manchester Art Gallery until 28th August 2017. To find out more, visit the Manchester Art Gallery website.
I’ve enjoyed all the recent photography exhibitions at Manchester Art Gallery –this one included. The photos are both expertly composed and social documents in themselves, and you notice something different on each visit.