Shirley Baker: The Photographers Gallery

The second floor of The Photographers Gallery is currently dedicated to the work of British female documentary photographer Shirley Baker, and is aptly titled ‘Women and Children; and Loitering Men’. The photographs are predominantly black and white (although colour images are hanging on two walls towards the back of the space) and as the title suggests it heavily features images of women and children as well as unemployed men – a trilogy who regularly act as her protagonists. All of the images were taken during the 1960’s and 70’s in Manchester, Salford or Hulme and document the urban clearance projects of that era in a very real and moving way. None of the images feel forced or staged and they all depict wonderfully banal activities; everyday scenes of women pushing prams, men walking the dog, children playing in the rubble and debris of derelict buildings, graffiti, and families sitting on the pavement outside their homes. Visitors are welcomed by a floor to ceiling black and white image of kids playing cricket in the terraces with old shop signs for Park Drive Cigarettes and Cherry Blossom Soda accompanied by a background soundscape of cars, metal hitting cobbles, an ice-cream vans’ jingle and people talking about the clearance programmes and the impact they had on communities. Despite the bleak content, I like the fact that the exhibition manages to escape being overly sentimental (and indeed depressing) and there are countless images of children smiling and laughing, leaving viewers to question are they happy or oblivious? Although I certainly prefer the mono images, the colour photographs do add to the show and complement their black and white counterparts, adding more life. And a single display case in the middle of the room presenting archive articles from The Guardian, The Economist and photographic titles featuring Bakers’ work help add further context.

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