Tish Murtha documented daily life in her own community of Elswick in Newcastle’s West End during the economic recession of the early Thatcher years. A photographer with a strong social conscience – her incredible photography is an important documentation of working class lives and inequality still relevant in the present day.
The outstanding and socially important photographic essay Youth Unemployment (1981) put together in 2017 by Tish’s daughter Ella was the photo-book of the year for us, so when we heard about a forthcoming publication we were keen to find out more.
Ella “My mam believed that photography could change lives for the better, but sadly died in 2013 before her dream of a book could be realised. In 2017 I ran a Kickstarter campaign in collaboration with Bluecoat Press to publish her acclaimed photographic essay Youth Unemployment (1981). The book was an amazing success, selling out as limited edition hardback within three months.”
“Following the success of the book, the Photographers Gallery in London held a major retrospective of Tish’s work and she is now widely recognised as one of the most important British documentary photographers of her time.”
“Elswick Kids focuses on her home town of Elswick, in Newcastle’s West End. Returning home from the newly set up documentary photography course in Newport in 1978, Tish documented the daily life of the community in which she grew up, including many of her close friends and family. The images capture the joy and freedom of childhood at a time when it was normal to play out in the street, in a way that has been largely lost today. A time of large scale unemployment in Tyneside – the landscape may be rough, but the kids are making the most of what little they have. They have a humour and resilience that shines through in every image.”
“I have always loved this series, and the feedback I receive from people is that these images are very special. I have really enjoyed looking through the archive and almost travelling back in time with each image. The kids are always outside, and you very rarely see an adult, or cars (unless abandoned, burnt out and used as play equipment) plenty of dogs though. It is just another lifetime entirely. I was born later than these kids, in 1984, but I remember going out after breakfast in the holidays, exploring and having adventures all day, only coming home if I got hungry, or it was dark.”
“My mam exhibited her Juvenile Jazz Bands (1979) and Youth Unemployment (1981) series, around the same time she also documented the campaign to save Scotswood Works. She was also commissioned by Tyneside Housing Aid Centre in conjunction with Shelter to make reports on children living in poverty, and housing problems faced by the elderly.”
“These pictures of the Elswick Kids came first, and while it was never an exhibition, and there is no text from Tish, they were obviously very important to her, and that makes them important to me.”