It’s not long since the world discovered the work of Vivian Maier, an unknown but brilliant amateur street photographer, whose work in the tough districts of New York and Chicago have quickly reached legendary status.
I have the privilege of volunteering at the Oxfam shop in Bangor, and the added gift of sorting the incoming donations of books, music and video. Last week threw up two wonderful books of the work of two quite different photographers, one of whom I was familiar with, and the other I had never heard of.
The former of these was a collection of the works of Angus Bean, an eccentric portrait photographer, whose most familiar image to most people would be the cover photo for the Beatles’ 1963 debut album, “Please Please Me”, which features the four moptops leaning over the rail of a balcony in a Liverpool block of flats. This image was later recreated for the cover of a compilation album, with the four looking older and wiser.
McBean’s approach was never stereotypical – not for him simple moody lighting effects. He created complete settings for his portraits. Intricate sets, with detail attended to and costume to suit the individual being photographed – which was often himself. But his photographs exhibit a very wry humour at work, and their eccentricity sets them apart from the crowd.
However, wonderful though this book is (I bought it, so I must have been impressed), it was the second book that really caught my attention.
It was “Street Photographs Manchester and Salford” by Shirley Baker.
Like Vivian Maier, I had never heard of Shirley Baker before although, unlike Maier, she is an established photographer. This book documents, as its title suggests, the streets of Salford and Manchester in the decade between 1963 and 1973, mostly in monochrome, but a few in colour.
This was a time of huge social upheaval in cities such as this. I grew up in Liverpool, and would have been about 10-20 during this period. The images are very striking, and show the city in a state of decay and dereliction that was soon to be swept away, to be replaced by a different form of community. Although the images show huge levels of poverty and deprivation, there’s also dignity and a sense of community that was lost when the demolition was over. Huge numbers of people were dislocated, and the cities would never be quite the same places again.
What really struck a chord with me in this book was that I am old enough to remember the sorts of places and people that the images in Baker’s book portray. Indeed, I was born into a street in Liverpool that was not too far removed in character from the places in the book, although it wasn’t quite so bleak. (The street and houses are still there.) The conditions documented here are more akin to the 19th century than the 21st.
If you’d like to see a selection of pictures from Shirley Baker’s book, there are some here – coincidentally, from a blog entry for the Oxfam shop in Wilmslow, which had received a copy of the book by donation. Simply Googling for Shirley Baker will reveal lots of others, too.
I recommend it – you’ll be surprised at the power of the images.
The book itself is highly prized, and will fetch a considerable price – more than I can afford, sadly, so it will go on general sale soon.