Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Documenting the documentarian

Paul Sng's new film Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche isn't even officially out yet and he's already announced plans of his next one: a celebration of the life and work of documentary photographer Tish Murtha.

The two projects have much in common, at least on the surface. Both promise to be personal tributes to pioneering artists from the perspective of their daughters, Celeste Bell and Ella Murtha respectively. Bold, fearless and independently minded, Poly Styrene embodied the spirit of punk. Tish Murtha, meanwhile, secured her place on David Hurn's Documentary Photography course at Newport College of Art by famously (and influentially) declaring "I want to take pictures of policemen kicking kids", and went on to rail against the militaristic ideology of the youth jazz bands she photographed in her native Newcastle, which she saw as crushing "any spark of individuality". The pair would probably have got on well.

Given that Murtha has only really started to gain the recognition she deserves since her death in 2013, anything that publicises her extraordinary work is to be welcomed - and in Sng, whose previous work includes a film about Sleaford Mods and a subsequent book of portraits entitled Invisible Britain, her story will have a sympathetic, sensitive director.

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