Black and white documentary photography from Tish Murtha’s Archives captures the social landscape of northern England in the 1980s. From community spirit to youth employment pits, Murtha’s very personal and moving photos are now in the care of her daughter Ella since Murtha passed away in 2013. Ella is now on a mission to get her mother’s remarkable images the recognition they deserve.
Born in South Shields, a coastal town near Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, Murtha was the third of ten children. Living on the brink of poverty, her family filled the lack of material positions with a wealth of creativity. After switching between jobs, Murtha got her break when she started an evening photography class at Newcastle College of Art. There, her talent was recognized by British Magnum photographer David Hurn who enrolled her in the Newport College of Art documentary photography course. Recalling his interview with Murtha, he recalls: âI asked her what she wanted to photograph and she said, ‘I want to take pictures of policemen kicking children’ and I said : ‘You are the’. It was the shortest interview I have ever done because I knew exactly what she meant and I knew she was going to be a social photographer.
After the collage, Murtha returned home to document the gritty and often unsettling life in her hometown. Ella remembers: “As far as I can remember, my mother always had her camera around her neck, he went with her everywhere, like he was part of her.” Murtha’s honest perspective spans over 15 years and documents the region’s brutal struggle against unemployment and working class social disadvantage. Children are captured playing among the rubble, exploring desolate buildings and jumping on burned-out cars, and the older generation of former miners are seen living their days in the local pub. âI find the images of my mom filled with tragedy but also with joy,â reveals Ella. âI see a celebration of a wonderful community who, although they had nothing, had each other and their imaginations. Everyone was in the same boat and they pulled themselves together to do the best despite the bleak situation and environment. “
Covering the six bodies of work; Newport Pub (1976/78); Children of Elswick (1978); Jazz groups for minors (1979); Youth unemployment (1980); London at night (1983) and Elswick revisited (1987 – 1991), the Tish Murtha: works 1976-1991 The exhibition is now on view at the Photographers’ Gallery in London until October 14, 2018. If you can’t make it to London, you can see more from this incredible archive on Tish Murtha’s website.