Recovering Truth

Recovering Truth

The working class communities of Salford and Manchester were largely neglected by the press and the government during the slum clearances of the 1960s, leaving humanist photographers and artists to document the realities. The Photographers’ Gallery, London, showcases 27 rare photographs by Shirley Baker (1932- 2014), which record individual experiences in northern cities from the 1950s until the 1980s.

Thought to be the only practising female street photographer during the period, Baker has contributed considerably to post-war British photography, her images functioning as essential historic documents which allow future generations to comprehend the impact of the controversial government policy. The collection showcases many of Baker’s lesser-known works, spanning over a prolific 20-year period. Expressing her sorrow regarding urban clearances, Baker stated: “My sympathies lay with the people who were forced to exist miserably, often for months on end, sometimes years, whilst demolition went on all around them.” Despite these circumstances, however, the compositions display the resilience and enduring humour that would withstand the social injustices experienced amongst these groups.

The works, whilst initially receiving little attention, have only increased in their popularity. Her first solo exhibition Women and Children; and Loitering Men was one of the most successful exhibitions at The Photographers’ Gallery in 2015, going on to be shown in Madrid the following summer and touring Manchester in 2017. Included in this next collection are more of the artist’s characteristic images, depicting the admirable joy of local residents situated among terraced streets. An adolescent couple partially obstruct a street sign in Grange-over-Sands, which reads “honesty” – a light-hearted yet poignant statement that speaks not only about young romance, but the desire to depict Britain at its most raw and confrontational. As well as the exhibition, two new publications by Baker, Without a Trace and Dog Show, launch in September and October respectively.

Shirley Baker: Personal Collection is at The Photographers’ Gallery, London. from 21 June. Find out more here.

1.Manchester, 1968 © Shirley Baker.