Chris Killip stierf op 13 oktober, 74 jaar oud, aan longkanker. Hij was een van de grootste Britse 'documentary photographers'. His most compelling work was made in the north-east of England in the late 1970s and early 80s and was rooted in the relationship of people to the places that made – and often unmade – them as the traditional jobs they relied on disappeared. In 1988 he published In Flagrante, a landmark of social documentary that has influenced generations of younger photographers. His friend and fellow photographer Martin Parr described it as “the best book about Britain since the war”. (The Guardian: Photographer of working-class life during the decline of industry in north-east England) Als eerbetoon publiceren we graag opnieuw onze bijdrage uit 2019.
The village of Skinningrove lies on the North-East coast of England, halfway between Middlesbrough and Whitby. Hidden in a steep valley it veers away from the main road and faces out onto the North Sea. Like a lot of tight-knit fishing communities it could be hostile to strangers, especially one with a camera.
“Now Then” is the standard greeting in Skinningrove; a challenging substitute for the more usual, “Hello”. The place had a definite ‘edge’ and it took time for this stranger to be tolerated. My greatest ally in gaining acceptance was ‘Leso’ (Leslie Holliday), the most outgoing of the younger fishermen. Leso and I never talked about what I was doing there. but when someone questioned my presence, he would intercede and vouch for me with, ‘He’s OK’. This simple endorsement was enough.’
We gaven de lezer al een aanduiding waar Chris Killip één van zijn meest bijzondere fotografische verhalen vertelde in de tachtiger jaren.
We laten hem nu zelf aan het woord. Bekijk deze film, gemaakt door regisseur Michael Almereyda in 2014. Het is een sleutel om zijn werk vanuit zijn bijzondere persoonlijkheid te kunnen interpreteren.
Beluister en bekijk zijn verhaal hieronder. Je kunt altijd ‘ondertiteling’ inschakelen mocht het ietsje te zacht klinken. (aan te raden)
Het is een belangrijk verhaal, ongewoon wellicht voor een fotograaf, maar in deze moeilijke ophoktijden, helemaal hoe het kan zijn: verbinding als vertrekpunt. Luister en bekijk hoe hij over zijn ‘onderwerpen’ (vergeef me de oneerbiedige benaming) mensen dus, spreekt en hen met zijn camera voor ons heeft zichtbaar gemaakt.
'When you’re photographing you’re caught up in the moment, trying to deal as best you can with what’s in front of you. At that moment you’re not thinking that a photograph is also, and inevitably, a record of a death foretold. A photograph’s relationship to memory is complex. Can memory ever be made real or is a photograph sometimes the closest we can come to making our memories seem real.'
“I didn’t have a political agenda. I liked the area a lot, and wanted to photograph it as well as I could. I was aware of the sense of history, more than politics; the idea that things will change, and nothing lasts forever.”
“That’s why you should give it your utmost to try and take the best photographs you can. It was only with hindsight that you can see things like – I am the chronicler of the deindustrialisation revolution. At the time, I was not that conscious of that, but I was focused on photographing all the industries I could, even with limited access. Because I knew it was important.”
Thatcher did not believe in society, yet of course society persisted. Killip excels at showing just that persistence: a community eking a living, even a life, from the scraps, the ruins, the flames, the waves, the dirt. More radically, our current masters do not believe in the state, whose death they are likely to be more successful in bringing about. If so, it will have the effect of rendering many effectively if not literally stateless — and thus conveniently invisible. But whoever emerges to document their tragedy could do far worse than study In Flagrante, an essential visual record of a sociopolitical disaster, which shows you probably can’t get to the heart of your subject without making yourself part of it. Just remind yourself that it comes from a time when these souls could still feed themselves without food banks, were not forced to move home for the crime of having a spare room, and when Jeremy Corbyn’s boldest ideas would have been considered meekly centrist. And then shudder.
'I remember speaking with Josef Koudelka in 1975 about why I should stay in Newcastle. Josef said that you could bring in six Magnum photographers, and they could stay and photograph for six weeks - and he felt that inevitably their photographs would have a sort of similarity. As good as they were, their photographs wouldn't get beyond a certain point. But if you stayed for two years, your pictures would be different, and if you stayed for three years they would be different again. You could get under the skin of a place and do something different, because you were then photographing from the inside. I understood what he was talking about. I stayed in Newcastle for fifteen years. I mean, to get the access to photograph the sea-coal workers took eight years. You do get embroiled in a place.'
(Feestdag koninklijke bruiloft Diana and Charles 1981)
Born in Douglas, Isle of Man in 1946, he left school at age sixteen and joined the only four star hotel on the Isle of Man as a trainee hotel manager. In June 1964 he decided to pursue photography full time and became a beach photographer in order to earn enough money to leave the Isle of Man. In October 1964 he was hired as the third assistant to the leading London advertising photographer Adrian Flowers. He then worked as a freelance assistant for various photographers in London from 1966-69. In 1969, after seeing his very first exhibition of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he decided to return to photograph in the Isle of Man. He worked in his father’s pub at night returning to London on occasion to print his work. On a return visit to the USA in 1971, Lee Witkin, the New York gallery owner, commissioned a limited edition portfolio of the Isle of Man work, paying for it in advance so that Killip could continue to photograph.
In 1972 he received a commission from The Arts Council of Great Britain to photograph Huddersfield and Bury St Edmunds for the exhibition Two Views – Two Cities. In 1975, he moved to live in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on a two year fellowship as the Northern Arts Photography Fellow. He was a founding member, exhibition curator and advisor of Side Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as well as its director, from 1977-9. He continued to live in Newcastle and photographed throughout the North East of England, and from 1980-85 made occasional cover portraits for The London Review of Books. In 1989 he was commissioned by Pirelli UK to photograph the workforce at their tyre factory in Burton-on-Trent. In 1989 he received the Henri Cartier Bresson Award and in 1991 was invited to be a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University. In 1994 he was made a tenured professor and was department chair from 1994-98. He retired from Harvard in December 2017 and continues to live in the USA.
‘Great photographers need determination not talent’
Deeply indebted to such modern photographers as Paul Strand and Walker Evans, Killip has long rejected the skepticism of post-modernism and remains staunchly committed to the subjective truth-telling capacities of the lens.
At once descriptive and metaphoric, Killip’s empathetic, politically charged work has lost little of its power or bite over the years. His photography asks important questions, not only about what the lens can reveal about history, but also about how it can connect us in meaningful ways to the past, present, and each other. (The Brooklyn Rail, Adam Bell, writer and photographer)