Written by Lucy Davies, Content shared via The Telegraph
Chris Killip's study of the communities that bore the brunt of industrail decline in the North East (of England) have earned him a nomination for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize
Chris Killip, 66, was a cycling enthusiast earning a living as the manager of the Isle of Man’s only four-star hotel when he came across the photograph that would alter the course of his life. Taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1954, it depicted a small boy carrying two bottles of wine, and it caught Killip’s eye while he was hunting for photographs of the Tour de France in a battered copy of Paris Match. ‘I was mesmerised by the photograph, and slightly tortured, too,’ he recalls. ‘I knew it wasn’t a snapshot, but I wasn’t sure what it was and that puzzled me greatly.’ Two years later, in 1964, Killip, who had left school with no qualifications, had a new vocation as a photographer, and had earned enough money to send himself to London to attempt to learn from the best. He made a list of the 50 best photographers working in Britain. Top came the triumvirate known as ‘the terrible trio’ – David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy – but Killip’s nerve failed him and instead he knocked at the door of number four, the advertising photographer Adrian Flowers.
Killip became his assistant and, in between throwing parties for the conductor Daniel Barenboim and the cellist Jacqueline Du Pré, learnt his craft diligently. By the mid-1970s he was ensconced in Newcastle upon Tyne on a two-year photography fellowship, sponsored by Northern Gas, which gave him the freedom to photograph to his heart’s content.
The project for which Killip has been nominated for this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Prize is a retrospective of the work he began making at around this time. It traces the two decades he spent living in the struggling industrial communities of the North East, immersing himself in the region’s landscape and culture. ‘You didn’t have to be a genius to realise how important it was to get in and photograph it before it all fell apart,’ he says. ‘The strange thing is, I didn’t realise how quickly it would go.’
Housing and Swan Hunters Shipyard, Wallsend, 1975
For Killip ‘photography was a good way to try to get inside things, to get intimate.’ Infiltrating was ‘always hard, but it depended how much you wanted to do it.’ His work often put him in danger – he was hit around the head with an iron bar at an illegal horse race – but most of the time the locals wanted him to succeed. ‘At the Pirelli tyre factory, one of the workers said, “If your pictures could convey what it’s really like to work here, that would be something.” And I knew exactly what he meant. I was always trying to make photography with that responsibility. I wanted it to be more than a document, to be something that is as close as you could possibly be to the subject.’
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