Shirley Baker: Women, Children and Loitering Men
at The Photographers’ Gallery
Until 20th September 2015
How pioneering British photographer Shirley Baker never had a London exhibition dedicated to her before now is not only completely mystifying but also a glaring omission for British photographic history. Thankfully, The Photographers’ Gallery has rectified this oversight with an excellent exhibition of Baker’s work which opened this week.
Shirley Baker (1932-2014) was Salford born and bred. One of the very few women to study Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology in the 1950s, Baker was thwarted in her ambitions to work as a photographer for The Manchester Guardian because, as a woman, she was not allowed to hold a union press card in the 1960s. Undaunted, Shirley Baker took her camera onto the streets of the Lancashire towns around her and started a long-term project to document the lives of the inhabitants of these working class terraced neighbourhoods.
This exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery focuses on Baker’s depictions of the residents caught up in the urban slum clearances in and around Manchester and Salford from 1961-81. Her photographs capture the lives of those people with tremendous empathy and warmth but without ever sentimentalizing or trivializing their situation.
What comes across so powerfully in Baker’s photographs is the sense of community in these towns, women chatting to one another on the front step and children playing on the street or amongst the rubble of the demolition. There is a timelessness to these photographs, putting aside the fashions of the 60s and 70s they could have easily been taken in the 20s and 30s. The gaggles of grubby-faced children that gaze out from Baker’s photographs look like they would be just as at home in a Dickens’ novel as they would a 1960s kitchen sink drama.
Yes, these are photographs that depict poverty and desolation but Shirley Baker brought such heart and compassion to her work and clearly had such respect for her subjects that it is hard not to feel uplifted by this exhibition. The Manchester Guardian’s loss was our gain.
Exhibition is on until 20th September 2015
Day Pass £3/ £2.50 concessions
FREE before noon daily
Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 8pm
Sunday 11am – 6pm
The Photographers’ Gallery
16-18 Ramillies Street
London EC2Y 8BY
020 7087 9300