Chris Killip

Brian and unidentified man in the water

1984, printed 2012–13

Not on display

Chris Killip 1946–2020
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 404 × 504 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2014


This is one of a group of ten black and white photographs in Tate’s collection from British photographer Chris Killip’s series Sea Coal, Lynemouth, Northumberland 1983–4 (Tate P81048P81057 and P81063). The series was shot between 1983 and 1984 in the coastal village of Lynemouth in Northumberland, known for its transient community of so-called ‘sea-coalers’, people who harvested coal washed up on the local beaches from the local coal mines that had once thrived in the area. Killip came across Lynemouth while living in Newcastle in the north-east of England and described how struck he was by the place:

When I first saw the beach at Lynemouth in January 1976, I recognised the industry above it but nothing else I was seeing. The beach beneath me was full of activity with horses and carts backed into the sea. Men were standing in the sea next to the carts, using small wire nets attached to poles to fish out the coal from the water beneath them. The place confounded time; here the Middle Ages and the twentieth century intertwined.
(Quoted in Dilnot 2012, p.17.)

For a few years there was sufficient coal being washed ashore for a small community of travellers and ex-miners to live off the harvested coal. Killip started to photograph the people working on the beach at Lynemouth in 1982, after over six years of failed efforts to obtain their consent. Between 1983 and 1984 he lived in a caravan on the sea coal camp and documented the struggle to survive on the beach. His photographs depict individuals handpicking the sea coal, as in Moira Hand-Picking in the very Good Fur Coat 1984 (Tate PP81051) and Brian and Unidentified Man in the Water 1984 (Tate P81050). Other images are portraits of members of the community in more intimate moments from their daily life, as in Boo and his Rabbit 1984 (Tate P81057) and Sean Leaning against his Truck 1983 (Tate P81054). A number of the photographs were shown in 1984 at the Side Gallery in Newcastle and others were included in Killip’s much acclaimed book In Flagrante, published four years later.

Killip is best known for his extensive series of photographs taken in the north-east of England, such as General North East 1975–9 and Shipbuilding 1972–81 (see Tate P81021P81037), which focus on the changing industrial landscape and increasingly poverty stricken social and economic climate. Though born on the Isle of Man – which he also photographed (see Tate P20400P20422) – Killip decided to settle in Newcastle-upon-Tyne when the oil and IMF crises, deindustrialisation and redundancy became the defining conditions of life in northern England. The overriding theme in most of the photographs taken in the north-east is the industrial decline of the manufacturing towns and the social disintegration that resulted in some parts of the country. Killip’s working practice is distinctive for the way he immerses himself into the communities he photographs and builds relationships with his subjects over a long period of time. This close level of involvement shows itself through images that are sensitive to the local environment and its inhabitants, as seen in the Lynemouth series.
Killip is considered one of the most significant photographers to have emerged in Britain in the 1970s, known particularly for his black and white photography and engagement with the communities he photographs. Tate’s collection also includes groups of photographs from his series: Isle of Man 1970–3 (Tate P20400P20422); Huddersfield, Yorkshire 1973–4 (Tate P81015P81020); General North East 1975–9 and Shipbuilding 1972–81 (see Tate P81021P81037); Seaside, Tyneside and Wearside 1975–6 (see Tate P81038P81041); Skinningrove, North Yorkshire 1982–3 (see Tate P81042P81048); and Pirelli 1989–90 (Tate P20394P20399, P81058P81062 and P81064).

Further reading
Chris Killip; Arbeit/ Work, exhibition catalogue, Museum Folkwang, Essen 2012.
Clive Dilnot, ‘Chris Killip: The Last Photographer of the Working Class’, afterimage, vol.39, May–June 2012.

Simon Baker
February 2014

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Display caption

Killip spent long periods of time with the communities he photographed, building close relationships with his subjects. He spent six years waiting for the sea-coalers to give permission before he started portraying the people collecting coal on the beach at Lynemouth. He began the series in 1982. Between 1983 and 1984 he lived in a caravan on the sea-coal camp and documented their work and daily life. Some photographs depict their labour, others capture more intimate moments of rest and play.

Gallery label, June 2021

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