At the point when Tish Murtha unfortunately kicked the bucket from a brain aneurysm in 2013, she had to really been been forgotten by the photographic community. Notwithstanding, in 2017, her key work, Youth Unemployment, was distributed to all universal acclaim and was followed by a major retrospective at London’s Photographers Gallery.
Tish has now been identified as a social-documentary photographer of the first rank. In the late 1970s, she recorded “marginalised communities from within” and the anger and disappointment evident in Youth Unemployment even readched the House of Commons where her work was raised as a subject of discussion. In 2019, for another generation facing the present austerity, her work is more relevant than ever.
Elswick Kids is a less strident set of images. They were taken as Tish walked the street of the working class district of Elswick in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and were never acknowledged as an exhibition in their own right. Today, however, they recount a period when children had the freedom of the street to play in and where friendship bloomed against a seemingly harsh background. These photographs, presently available in another book of the same name, have a stark beauty that radiates through each page.
Elswick Kids is an essential contribution to our comprehension of life in a northern English city in the late twentieth century and cements Tish Murtha’s place in British documentary photography.
Tish Murtha’s story
My childhood was not what you would call “conventional” but it was filled with fun, laughter, music, photography and creativity. I used to wish I had a “normal” mam who wore nice dresses and shopped at Marks and Spencer, instead of having short spiky hair and baseball boots – but the idea of that horrifies me now!
For as long as I can remember my mam always had her camera around her neck, it went everywhere with her, like it was a part of her. She loved to develop her stuff, it was an art-form.
I would wake up to the smell of chemicals regularly because my mam had been pulling an all-nighter developing pictures while I slept and makeshift washing lines were strung up allover the house with these amazing black and white images hanging from them. There was this one day we were going to the town and were followed by a very creepy glue sniffer, he followed us for ages, stopping to sit on a bench next to an old man who looked like a cross between Captain Birdseye and Santa – my mam took their photo. That night she took me into the spare room which doubled as the darkroom and we developed that picture together. It was like magic seeing the image appear on the paper out of nowhere. I can’t have been more than 5 but never forgot it.
Tish was definitely one of a kind; as I grew older I began to realise how lucky I was to have had such a “different” mam who encouraged me to be as creative as possible, always be myself, and literally sacrificed absolutely everything for me.