Monday, January 07, 2019

Smiles amid the squalor

Looking at some of the images from her Elswick Kids series, which is now available as a book published by Bluecoat Press, it's hard to believe that Tish Murtha's genius for social documentary has only been acknowledged relatively recently - and, tragically, only posthumously.

I've seen suggestions online that the series is poverty porn for middle-class art enthusiasts, that it paints the area in too grim a light and that (conversely) it romanticises the experience of growing up against the backdrop of deprivation. All of these criticisms are, I think, well wide of the mark - and indeed Murtha would be especially horrified by them, as a native of Newcastle who made it her stated mission to depict"marginalised communities from the inside".

However, what cannot be disputed, surely, is the quality of the images, with the book's cover picture arguably the pick of the bunch. Your own childhood may have been markedly different - mine was, a decade or so later, further north up the A1 - but Murtha's photos have the power to communicate what life was like for kids growing up in a place that was largely ignored and neglected. In this respect, Elswick Kids is very much in the same vein as Invisible Britain - another book I need to get my hands on.

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