Shirley Baker’s Post War Photography: Reactions of today’s generation of older people to the images of their 1960’s childhood

21 July 2017

Professor Penny Tinkler from the School of Social Sciences has led a project delving into the background of the images of everyday life in Manchester and Salford during the so-called slum clearances of the 1960s and 1970s.

This street photography is by pioneering British photographer Shirley Baker. The images are of the run-of-the-mill, ordinary day to day existence of working class people who lived and worked in these neighbourhoods. This exhibition runs at the Manchester Art Gallery until 28 August 2017 and is described as “documenting the poverty and resilience of communities under siege”. Professor Tinklers research has been to collect the stories behind the photographs. Working with exhibition curator Anna Douglas she has been interviewing people who lived and played in the inner city streets that Baker photographed, and some of her interviewees have even been able to spot themselves in Baker’s images. The older people who she interviewed shared some fascinating insights about the recollections these images provoked, and a marked contrast between childhood and society then and today. Professor Tinkler says: “Our interviewees stressed that the freedom they experienced as children would be alien to most young people today. Dirt, risk and resourcefulness characterised girls’ and boys’ play.

Derelict houses were adventure playgrounds, canal bridges served as climbing frames and bricks were used like Lego. Discarded prams, bikes and cars were dismantled and given new life as ‘bogies’. Abandoned and derelict houses were raided for anything that would burn on the croft bonfire. Unlike today, bruises and cuts were everyday occurrences that neither children nor adults fussed over. Some interviewees recalled that their broken bones, burns and mild concussion were treated lightly by parents, a response many people today would probably find quite shocking. This was not neglect, but part of a culture of robustness that was essential for surviving and finding pleasure amidst poverty. Indeed, interviewees typically recalled feeling cared for by their parents.

They also recounted moving and funny stories about the importance of neighbours, especially women, who watched over them and helped out. This was part of a community spirit that many interviewees felt was lost when they were relocated to new estates and high rise flats”. You can read more about the exhibition, which runs until 28 August 2017, on the Manchester Art Gallery website

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