In flagrante, to be caught doing something you shouldn’t be doing, is a subject that was famously documented by Manx photographer Chris Killip in the 1980s. My tutor had referred to him in my Assignment 3: Monochrome feedback because of the connection to Redcar. Until now I hadn’t heard of Chris Killip and the more I discovered about his work the more I felt it deserved it’s own blog post instead of being tagged onto the end of my assignment reflection. Chris Killip’s photo book documents 1980s life in the north of England’s communities and how they are being affected by deindustrialisation.
The objective history of England doesn’t amount to much if you don’t believe in it, and I don’t, and I don’t believe that anyone in these photographs does either as they face the reality of de-industrialisation in a system which regards their lives as disposable. To the people in these photographs I am superfluous, my life does not depend on their struggle, only my hopes. This is a subjective book about my time in England. I take what isn’t mine and I covet other peoples lives. The photographs can tell you more about me than about what they describe. The book is a fiction about metaphor.”
Chris Killip, Foreword to In Flagrante, 1988
Some of Killip’s photographs are taken near Redcar, including ‘Crabs and People’ (above) at Skinningrove. There are many uncertain, broken relationships between the subjects in the image above. None of the people or the two dogs are looking at each other. They are all looking out of the picture, maybe to the thought of better things. Killip’s snapshot approach keeps his images real with more questions than there are answers. This may reflect the uncertainty many people may have felt at the time about unemployment in particular. My questions include: Did the mother and baby arrive with the two men in the car? Who was it that went crab fishing? What has the dog in the lower right hand corner seen? Why has one man stayed in the car? Has he just arrived?
Killip’s images are similar to my monochrome assignment in terms of the bleak location of the beach, but his have a stronger social connection with the environment providing a setting rather than being the subject. There is a lack of connection between the subjects in his images, such as Beaver (above), and the bleakness of their surroundings underlines the harshness of their own lives.
Another local photographer is Ian Macdonald, who photographs the relationship between people and their industrial environment. With its mix of industry, beaches, moors and social disparities, Cleveland offers many opportunities for photographers to document a variety of interactions.
Macdonald’s image above was taken at Redcar and shows a different interpretation of life in the early 1980’s when compared to Killip. The people on the beach are interacting, enjoying a picnic, with the industrial smoke in the background. It has been taken slightly further along the sand dunes from where I took this image (below) for my Monochrome assignment.
The people in Macdonald’s image appear to be more at home in the scene than Killip’s photographs.
Both Killip’s and Macdonald’s work is referred to in Simon Robert’s blog called We English. Simon Roberts has involved the public in expressing what it means to be English, to produce an exhibition that has been commissioned by the Bradford’s National Media Museum. Robert’s gallery depicts English life and it’s relationship with the landscape. Rather than focusing on the subject of events it fills in some of the gaps and surrounding edges, such as ‘Skegness Beach’ (below) which shows people leaving the beach rather than interacting with it.
You can listen to Simon Roberts’ explanation for We English in the video clip below.
Ironically the political climate of unemployment and economic problems that inspired Killip are similar to what we’re facing in today’s era of austerity. This is something I may continue to explore for my 5th assignment. Instead of rushing in I’m going to spend more time researching this area and thinking of posibilities.