Chris Killip

Machine operator

1989–90

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Chris Killip born 1946
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 415 x 521 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2014
Reference
P81058

Summary

This is one of a group of twelve black and white photographs in Tate’s collection from British photographer Chris Killip’s Pirelli series 1989–90 (see Tate P20394P20399, P81058P81062 and P81064). They are vintage prints on Agfa Record Rapid paper (this paper has been discontinued). Killip took the photographs in the Pirelli tyre factory in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, having been commissioned by Pirelli UK to photograph the workforce there. Typically for his style of working, Killip decided to live at the factory and take the pictures over a long period of time. The resulting work was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London in September 1989 and published in book form by Ute Eskildsen/Steidl Verlag, Essen in 2007. The series presents the highly-skilled manual workers employed by Pirelli through a series of studied and poised portraits that emphasise the mastery and beauty inherent within the industrial process. The photographs are both a record of their time and of shifting economic conditions, as Pirelli has since relocated to Russia, Mexico and Indonesia. The historian David Campany has described the impulse behind the photographs in the Pirelli series:

At the Pirelli tyre factory in 1989, Killip restated his commitment to the world of work, making intense portraits of gravity and grace. This at a time when most photographers of his generation shunned blue collar manufacturing to focus on the colourful, amnesiac world of consumerism, leisure and the service industries. Killip had come to embrace this untimeliness, perhaps as sign of what he had realised so early. Good work belongs to all eras and can guarantee no particular affinity to the moment it was made.
(David Campany in Museum Folkwang 2012, p.125.)

Killip was born in 1946 in Douglas on the Isle of Man and is considered one of the most significant photographers to have emerged in Britain in the 1970s. Known particularly for his black and white photography, he has typically worked in extended series spending time in the community and locations he photographs. Tate’s collection also includes groups of photographs from his earlier 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 Sea Coal, Lynemouth, Northumberland 1983–4 (see Tate P81048P81057 and P81063).

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
Feburary 2014

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