Byker was an estate of nineteenth-century terraced houses, located in Newcastle upon Tyne, in north east England. Finnish-born artist Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen arrived there in 1969 when the area was already destined for demolition to make way for a new purpose-built estate. Despite this, Konttinen was drawn to the humour, vibrancy and resilience of the residents and decided to make it her home, living in the area until her own house was demolished. The Byker series contains a variety of photographs taken over twelve years, from images captured spontaneously on the street, to intimate views into the homes of the people of Byker.
Living Cities is presented in The George Economou Gallery.
At one point Konttinen set up a portrait studio in a disused hairdressing salon, offering free portraits to local residents. Her continued engagement with the local community helped her to gain their trust. She has said,
Being a foreigner gave me one advantage: I could be nosey, and be forgiven. Many doors were opened for me that would have remained closed to another photographer, and invitations extended to the kind of hospitality and intimacy that would normally be reserved for family only.
In 1969, Konttinen helped to found the Amber Film and Photography Collective. Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, their objective is to establish a creative relationship with local communities and to document working class life in the region. Konttinen is still active in the group today.
Curated by Ann Coxon and Shoair Mavlian.