Chris Killip

Cornershop, Wallsend, Tyneside

1976, printed 2012–13

In Tate Britain

Chris Killip 1946–2020
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 402 × 502 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2014


This one of a large group of black and white photographs in Tate’s collection taken in the north-east of England by the British photographer Chris Killip in the mid to late 1970s (see Tate P81021P81037). Though born on the Isle of Man – which he also photographed (see Tate P20400P20422) – Killip moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the early 1970s and began to photograph the north-east of England extensively. Tate’s collection contains examples of his series General North East 1975–9 and Shipbuilding 1972–81, as well as the related series Huddersfield, Yorkshire 1973–4 (Tate P81015P81020) and Seaside, Tyneside and Wearside 1975–6 (see Tate P81038P81041).

Killip decided to settle in Newcastle 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. This can be felt in the dereliction portrayed in images such as Demolished Housing, Wallsend, Tyneside 1981 (Tate P81037) and Cornershop, Wallsend, Tyneside 1975 (Tate P81033), which exude a sense of stasis and exhaustion. Other shots such as Windowless Terrace 1973 (Tate P81019) and Windowless Houses, Killingworth New Town, Tyneside 1975 (Tate P81022) depict bleak and almost windowless purpose-built homes that became typical across the north east of England. Girls Playing in the Road Wallsend, Tyneside 1972 (Tate P81036) and Playground with Three Girls 1974 (Tate P81020) are poignant pictures that capture the industrial backdrop of the children’s playgrounds and the dull living conditions that were a product of the hostile economic climate at the time. Many of Killip’s photographs summarise his fascination with the dying local shipbuilding industry and the changing nature of the north-east in general. In Woman Looking up the Street, Wallsend, Tyneside 1975 (Tate P81034), a ship in construction looms over partially bricked-up terraced housing. The ‘Tyne Pride’, which is depicted in the photograph, was the biggest ship ever built on the River Tyne but also one of the last. Demolished Housing, Wallsend, Tyneside 1981 shows the same street six years later, now completely demolished and derelict. The graffiti – ‘DON’T VOTE, PREPARE FOR REVOLUTION’ – graphically manifests how rapidly the economic situation had declined.

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 Two Men on a Bench, Wallsend, Tyneside, July 1975 (Tate P81029) and The Same Two Men, Wallsend, Tyneside, May 1976 (Tate P81030), in which two men are shown on the same bench from different angles, a year apart. While the men are depicted sitting peacefully together, the two posters calling for demonstrations shown in the background give a strong indication of the feeling of unrest amongst the working class during that period. This social and political undercurrent is seen more directly in North Shield Housing Estate on May 5 1981, The day Bobby Sands’ Death was Announced 1981 (Tate PP81032), in which the graffiti behind a group of children standing on a wall reads ‘SMASH IRA’ and ‘BOBBY SANDS GREEDY IRISH PIG’, as well as in portraits of trade unionists and local political figures such as The Former Leader of Newcastle City Council, T. Dan Smith, at Home in Heaton 1980 (Tate P81026) and Trade Union Official, Scottswood, Tyneside 1979 (Tate P81027).

Direct representations of the industrial unrest that characterised this moment in recent English history are also seen in images such as People Queuing Outside of Bakery during Flour Shortage (‘The Bread Strike’) 1977 (Tate P81031), which depicts queues due to food shortages as a result of national strikes and general deprivation in the north-east. Killip has said of his representation of history that, ‘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-industrialization in a system which regards their lives as disposable.’ (Quoted in Dilnot 2012, p.15.)

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 a number of his other series: Isle of Man 1970–3 (Tate P20400P20422); Seaside, Tyneside and Wearside 1975–6 (see Tate P81038P81041); Skinningrove, North Yorkshire 1982–3 (see Tate P81042P81048); Sea Coal, Lynemouth, Northumberland 1983–4 (see Tate P81048P81057 and P81063); 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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