Shirley Baker: Women, Children and Loitering Men

Art, Photography
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Retrospective of pioneering female street photographer featuring her honest depictions of impoverished areas of Britain

The children in Shirley Baker’s photographs seem undeterred by the demolition of their neighbourhood. They create makeshift swings on lampposts, while the cobbled streets become their cricket pitch and paving stones their canvas for chalk drawings. Boys grin proudly, while girls dressed up in their mother’s garb flash cheeky expressions.

Taken over a 20-year period from 1961 by the pioneering female street photographer who is best known for her documentation of working-class communities in the north of England, this significant body of work focuses on the slum clearances in Manchester and Salford that paved the way for modern tower blocks. Baker, who died last year, felt it was her responsibility to record the people uprooted by mass urban development and, in these photographs, she provides a window on to a world that no longer exists. The intense pathos they evoke is accentuated by a specially commissioned sound work that features archival audio of street sounds interspersed with recordings of Baker talking about the period.

It remains a great travesty that, at a time when picture-led stories in colour supplement magazines represented the new voice of journalism, Baker’s documentary talents eluded editors. Although eager to work for TheGuardian (at the time based in Manchester), little of her work ever featured in print. It makes this rare and insightful display all the more powerful, especially as it includes examples of her striking colour photographs, which she considered a failed experiment. This is honest and poetic work that reveals the resilience of human nature.

Freire Barnes

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