“The working class get it in the neck basically, they’re the bottom of the pile. I wanted to record people’s lives because I valued them. I wanted them to be remembered. If you take a photograph of someone they are immortalised, they’re there forever. For me that was important, that you’re acknowledging people’s lives, and also contextualising people’s lives.”
– Chris Killip
British documentary photographer Chris Killip (11th July 1946 – 13th October 2020) gave us the vision for his documentary photography: “History is what’s written, my pictures are what happened.” In Flagrante (1973-1985) focused on the lot of working-class communities living with the aftershock of deindustrialisation. Martin Parr considers In Flagrante “the key photobook about Britain since the war… It was a different way of looking. Put simply, Chris created a new narrative by looking more closely at his subjects and what they represented.”
Sometimes, if I’ve been taking a portrait, I say, “Could you just hold still a moment?” But usually I don’t say anything. You know, it’s more interesting just looking, and seeing something and trying to photograph it. But you’re always thinking, you know; you’re working at your composition, thinking how to make this more interesting.
I worry about the digital camera. I tell my students to turn off the screen, and they don’t. They think I’m crazy. I’m not crazy. I know what made my pictures better was the anxiety I had, because I didn’t know what I’d just taken. I couldn’t see it, and I always thought it wasn’t good enough, so I’d push a bit harder. I’d try to make a better picture.
– Chris Killip, 2017
There is an image from 1977 called Celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee: I like the picture very much. But I can remember processing and printing it, looking at the contact and thinking: “Oh, my God, I can’t show this.” There’s a very old lady who has been made up for the occasion by her friends: they’ve powdered her face but they’ve been rather overzealous, and the flash has hit her overpowdered face, and, as my cousin would say, “She looks like they dug her up.” I remember thinking at the time: I can’t show anybody this image, it’s just too strange. Now I don’t think that. The picture is such a supercharged Martin Parr-ish image, with the Union Jack in the background and people smiling, and the words The Queen’s Silver Jubilee right there.
Lead Image: Cookie in the Snow, Seacoal Camp, Lynemouth, Northumberland, 1984 Photograph- Photograph by Chris Killip
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