Wednesday, October 14, 2020

"History is what's written, my pictures are what happened"

Chris Killip may have been born on the Isle of Man, but there's no doubt he has died an honorary native of Newcastle. His projects in and around my home town - not to mention the fact that he was instrumental in the foundation of Side Gallery and a key member of the Amber Collective - mean that his death will (or at least should be) much mourned in the north east.

I've written about his photography on here before - his images of people at work and play at the seasidehis snapshots of the chaotic scenes inside an anarcho-punk venue in Gateshead; and most recently, albeit briefly in connection with Mark Pinder's work in the West End of the city, his pictures illustrating the dramatic decline of shipbuilding on the Tyne. (By complete coincidence, I ordered a copy of Shipbuilding On Tyneside 1975-1976, featuring selected images from The Last Ships, from Cafe Royal Books only yesterday morning, merely hours before the news broke.)

Killip never set out to become (in his words) "the photographer of the English de-Industrial Revolution" and yet that's exactly how he'll be remembered. The scenes and events that he shot may not have seemed significant at the time, but he clearly had the foresight to realise otherwise - and the determination to chronicle what he saw for the sake of posterity. Any understanding of the period during which he was living and working in the north east is enriched by his pictures.

Killip's talent and reputation have been widely trumpeted, but what's struck me about many of the tributes paid to him is their personal nature. The humanity, sensitivity and sense of respect for his subjects discernible in his photos were clearly the mark of a man who was generous and supportive with his time and energy, an enthusiastic and encouraging torchbearer for the art of documentary photography.

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