‘The Wickedest Road in Britain’ – Birmingham 1968

Janet Mendelsohn's haunting 1968 photographs of life in Britain second largest city

In 1968, Harvard graduate Janet Mendelsohn was a student at the University of Birmingham’s new Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. An essay she wrote involved taking photographs of Balsall Heath – an impoverished area where many first-generation immigrants had settled in. Mendelsohn focused in particular on ‘Kathleen’, a 24-year-old prostitute and mother who worked the infamous Varna Road. A street at the centre of the area’s busy red light district where as many as 200 women offered sex for sale.  It was often dubbed “the wickedest road in Britain”.

 

Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968

 

Her photographs and interviews with Kathleen and her family formed the source material for a photo essay entitled “Varna Road”, published in spring 1969 in the University of Birmingham’s cultural review.

 

 

Kathleen, Balsall Heath, Birmingham 198

Kathleen at home

Kathleen and her mother, Birmingham 198

Kathleen and her mother, Birmingham 198

Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968

Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968

Kathleen and her newborn son (c.1968)

Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968

Birmingham Kathleen and Salim at home (c.1968)

Kathleen and Salim at home (c.1968)

Kathleen and her daughter S, c.1968

Kathleen and her daughter S, c.1968

Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968

Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968

Kathleen hanging out (c.1968).

Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968

birmingham Janet Mendelsohn, Kathleen outside the bar (c.1968

Janet Mendelsohn, Kathleen outside the bar (c.1968

Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968 Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968

Birmingham The street (c.1968), by Janet Mendelsohn

The street (c.1968), by Janet Mendelsohn

Birmingham, Janet Mendelsohn, Untitled (c.1968)

Kathleen, by Janet Mendelsohn, Untitled (c.1968)

Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968

Ballsall Health, Birmingham, UK, 1968

Kathleen and Salim, 1968

Pimps and a cop on the street (c.1968), by Janet Mendelsohn

Pimps and a cop on the street (c.1968), by Janet Mendelsohn

birmingham Kathleen (c.1968) by Janet Mendelsohn

Kathleen (c.1968) by Janet Mendelsohn

Mendelsohn’s show us a time before the areas’s slum were cleared, just as Nick Hedges did with his work for Shelter.

Janet Mendelsohn: Varna Road is at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham from 27 January to 3 April 2016