Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men


I’ve finally got around to writing up my impressions of the exhibition of photographs by Salford born photographer, Shirley Baker at Manchester City Art Gallery. The Gallery website tells us:

Shirley Baker (1932-2014) is thought to be the only woman practicing street photography in Britain during the post-war era. Baker’s humanist documentary work received little attention throughout her sixty-five years career.


“My sympathies lay with the people who were forced to exist miserably, often for months on end, sometimes years, whilst demolition went on all around them.”

The exhibition which was originally shown The Photographer’s Gallery, London.

specifically focuses on her depictions of the urban clearance programmes of inner city Manchester and Salford.

with photographs mainly taken during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the years when I was growing up – not in Manchester or Salford, but in a Lancashire mill town less than 20 miles away. The urban landscape was similar to that of the big city – with terraced streets and post war development. Other than the first year of my life (which I can’t, of course, remember) we lived in modern housing, initially on a Council Estate and then, in my teens, on a new build estate. But my grandparents lived in a terraced house on a typical street.

Shirley Baker was very much a “street photographer”, and took photographs of ordinary people – the women, children and “loitering men” who lived in the poorer parts of the “twin cities” of Manchester and Salford, in and around the terraced streets, bomb sites and slum clearances.

These photographs really resonated with me – as well as most of the visitors to the exhibition who I overheard talking as I walked around the galleries. The streets, the clothing and the activities depicted in the photographs, all brought back memories.

The young boy in the cowboy hat could have been me – I had one too and would have dressed just like that when I was a similar age.


and when I was a little older I could easily have been one of these boys fishing down the grid for “treasure” or one of the children playing on the makeshift swing made from a rope tied to the lamp-post in the picture at the top of this post.


The clothing the children and adults in the photos are wearing are very much the same as I remember. So very different from today’s “designer” outfits that even relatively young children wear today.

And the lady in this photograph is wearing very typical clothing for the time with her overcoat and headscarf – she could have been walking down any of the streets in my home town when I was growing up.


Here we can see an older woman cleaning the pavement, and possibly whitening the step with a “donkey stone” . People were poor but took pride in their homes. With her patterned housecoat covering her dress, her atire is typical of that worn by a working class woman of her age in the 60’s and 70’s in the north of England.


Inner city Salford and Manchester were poorer areas than the town in which I lived. So I don’t recall things as being quite as grim as in many of the photographs when I was a child. Nevertheless the photographs are representative of the world in which I lived.

I’d not heard of Shirley Baker before. It was difficult for women to establish a career as a photographer in the 1960’s.

(She studied) Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology, being one of very few women in post-war Britain to receive formal photographic training. Upon graduating, she took up a position at Courtaulds the fabric manufacturers, as an in-house factory photographer. Working in industry did not meet her photographic ambitions in wanting to emulate a ‘slice of life’ style similar to that of Cartier-Bresson. She soon left to take up freelance work in the North West. Further study in medical photography over one year in a London hospital did little to settle her ambition to work as a press photographer. Hampered by union restrictions on female press photographers, she abandoned plans to work for the Manchester Guardian. Though she took up teaching positions in the 1960s, ultimately it was in pursuing her own projects where she came to feel most fulfilled. (Source)

More of her work can be seen on the Shirley Baker website.

When this exhibition was shown in London, many of the visitors (probably mainly middle class southerners) must have thought they were staring at a different world. But for me, and other visitors to the Manchester gallery, it brought back memories of our childhood and youth. (I’ve nothing against middle class southerners, by the way. I may have grown up in a working class family, but have to admit to being a middle class northerner these days)

In summary, this is an excellent exhibition which I will, no doubt, revisit, probably more than once, when I’m in Manchester over the next few months.

Addendum. I was in Manchester today to meet up with an Australian friend (like me a middle class professional, who grew up in a working class mining community) who was in the city for a short while. I introduced her to Lowry (she’d never heard of him) by showing her some of the pictures in the Gallery’s collection – and then took her to the exhibition to show her the world I grew up in.

Trinity Bridge, Salford


I took the train into Manchester on Saturday – the main reason being that I’d decided to look for some new walking boots. It was a fine sunny, day and after alighting at Salford Central train station and walking up to Deansgate, I stopped to take a few snaps of the Trinity Bridge, a footbridge that crosses the River Irwell connecting the “twin cities” of Salford and Manchester.


It was designed by the architect, structural engineer and artist, Santiago Calatrava.- it’s his only bridge in the UK – and was opened in 1995.


It’s a cable-stay design with a 41-meter cigar shaped pylon, angled towards Salford, with the cables attached asymmetrically to form a cris-cross effect– rather reminding me of a “Spirograph” pattern.

It’s difficult to take a photo that properly shows the design. On the Salford side there are three ramps, two of which curve in from either side, combining at the pylon  to form the deck across the river. The Manchester bank of the Irwell is higher than on the Salford side so the bridge slopes up to meet the bank.


It’s a radical design and there have been some problems with maintenance but there is no doubt that it’s an attractive landmark structure.

Sculpture on Salford Quays

To celebrate it’s 10th anniversary in 2010, the Lowry commissioned a number of artists to work with local people to create a number of sculptures that are located around Salford Quays. The sculptures are meant to represent aspects of the history of the Quays – at one time the third busiest port in England. The project – Unlocking Salford Quays – was funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund.

Nine Dock by Mor (a team of experienced landscape architects, public artists and spatial designers) celebrates the history of what was, at one time, the largest and most important of the Docks in Salford

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It opened in 1905 and was home to the passenger and shipping company, Manchester Liners. At over half a mile in length 9 Dock was big enough to hold 10 large container ships, enabling the Port to remain internationally competitive.

The dock is quite different now – with the Lowry on one side and the concrete and glass structures of Media City on the other.

My favourite work was Casuals by Broadbent.

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The work comprises large scale representations of dock workers union cards, which were needed for them to qualify for work on the docks. However, they were casual labourers and had to turn up to the docks in the morning while the employers selected which particular individuals they would employ that day. The rest returned home disappointed, without a wage. Unfortunately, we’re effectively seeing a return to such awful practices with the growth of the so called “zero-hours contract”.

A number of former dockers and their families gave interviews for this project and some of them are featured on the individual “cards”.

This is Erie’s Rest by Ingrid Hu


The sculpture, which is decorated with ceramics showing drawings of dockers at work, is meant the ebb and flow of the Canal. The artist was inspired by stories of an ancestor who claimed to have walked on both the Canal floor during its construction, and the Canal surface when it froze to ice.

Where the Wild Things Were by Unusual, was created with the involvement of children from Primrose Hill Primary School, Langworthy Road Primary School and Seedley Primary School.

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It takes the form of giant blades of elephant grass which are meant to suggest places beyond the Canal, where ships sailed to and from. Each steel base is engraved with drawings by local children, who imagined the landscape and wildlife of far-off lands.

Factory Girls by David Appleyard celebrates the women workers of Metropolitan Vickers, once the largest factory in Western Europe.


The forms are inspired by products made at the electrical engineering firm in Trafford Park. Each enamelled figure is named after a former employee.

Just down from the Casuals sculpture, there was a large collection of objects representing the type of good, materials and equipment that would have been found on the quaysides during the hey day of the docks. They’re very realistic and look as if they had been left behind when the docks were finally closed.




They’re not part of the Unlocking the Quays project and I couldn’t find any information on the artist. However they’re a pertinent reminder of the decline of a once important, major industry in Salford and how the area has changed.

Salford Quays

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Despite being about 40 miles from the sea, at one time Manchester was the third buiest port in England. This was due to the Manchester ship canal, opened in 1894, which allowed ships to sail almost into the city centre. However, their heyday didn’t last long. With the move to containerisation in the 1970’s the Port of Manchester began to decline as larger vessels couldn’t get up the canal, and they finally closed in 1982.

The biggest docks on the ship canal were in actually in Salford, covering 120 acres of water and 1,000 acres of land.  After their closure a substantial proportion of the docks were purchased by Salford Council and redevelopment began in 1985 under the Salford Quays Development Plan. Improvements were made to infrastructure and water quality and the derelict docks were developed for leisure, cultural and commercial use.

The first landmark building – the Lowry, which contains theatres and art galleries – opened on 28 April 2000 followed by the Imperial War Museum North, designed by Daniel Libeskind, in July 2002 (although that’s actually over the water in Trafford).


Residential property has been constructed on the waterside


and the most recent development is “Media City”, which spans both sides of the canal and it’s tenants include the BBC and ITV


After we’d had a look round the Lowry we had a mooch around the quays, looking at the buildings and bridges and snapping some photos.









Digital Art at the Lowry


On Saturday we had an errand to run in Salford so decided to take the opportunity to drive over to Salford Quays and visit the Lowry. We’d seen that there was an exhibition of digital art showing there and although we weren’t quite sure what to expect, decided to take a look. A good decision as we enjoyed it.

The exhibition website tell us that Right Here Right Now is

A major new exhibition providing a thought provoking snapshot of contemporary digital art. Featuring the work of 16 international artists, Right Here, Right Now looks at how technology affects our lives – through surveillance, artificial intelligence, voyeurism or online dating.

Created in the last five years, their critical, playful and illuminating artworks challenge our understanding of the digital systems that surround us, while making visible those that are hidden. Prepare to re-think your increasingly connected digital life.

There were a good selection of works; photographs, videos, sculpture and installations.

We particularly liked and enjoyed those works we could interact with.With two exhibits viewers became part of the work.

Snowfall by fuse*, an Italian collective of multimedia artists. was a digital snow storm (quite appropriate as it was starting to snow outside). Entering a darkened room we were faced with a screen showing a digital snow fall. But there were video cameras in the room that detected the silhouettes of people and objects and processed the images, blocking the fall of snowflakes on the screen, creating digital snow men (and women!)IMAG3726

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Another exhibit, Darwinian Straw Mirror by Daniel Rozin’s, did something similar. In this case an image was produced of people in the room made up a lines or “straws”


Planthropy by Stephanie Rothenberg was another interactive work. This was an installation consisting of plants held in containers suspended from the ceiling. Each container was associated with a particular charity, breast cancer, homelessness, refugees, .climate change Every time someone tweets about one of these causes (hashtags were listed on the walls), the watering system for that corresponding plant was activated.IMAG3724

Colony by Nikki Pugh consisted of two animated “creatures”


a small group of people each carry a landscape-reactive ‘creature’ that uses real-time processing of GPS data to determine its movements. As the group moves across the city, the creatures react to their surroundings depending on their programmed claustrophobic or claustrophilic personalities (exhibition catalogue)

Not all he works were animated. There were three large photographs by Mishka Henner, whose work we’d previously seen at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool.The three works on display were from the same series (The Fields) we’d seen at the Open Eye. At first glance they look like abstract works, but they are actually aerial shots of oil fields. His images are taken from Google earth. He processes them and stitches them together to form large photographs.

Kern River Oil Field, Kern County, California (2013)

We liked many of the other works on display too. And it was interesting to see how the artists had imaginatively used modern technology to stretch the boundaries of art.


Manchester Dock Offices

Despite being a good few miles inland, the building of the ship canal meant that, for a while, Manchester used to be one of the busiest ports in England. No longer. Today the docks has been revedeloped as “Salford Quays” with retail and office developments plus the Lowry gallery and Theatre and the Imperial War Museum north, all housed in modern buildings.

But there is still a reminder of the area's former use. Standing a little neglected at the former entrance to the docks there's a distinctive Aart. Deco building, the former dock offices.

The building was designed by Harry Fairhurst and Son, a firm of northern architechts who were responsible for a number of buildings in Manchester.



Peter Blake at the Lowry

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I hadn’t been keeping an eye on what was going on at the Lowry at Salford Quays. But when I spotted in a post by John of Notes to the Milkman that they were showing an exhibition of works by Peter Blake inspired by pop music, Peter Blake and Pop Music, I thought I should get along before it finishes at the end of February. So we drove over to Salford Quays last Saturday and called into the Lowry to take a look at the exhibition.

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To be honest, I didn’t know that much about Peter Blake’s art. I guess’ like most people I’m mainly aware of his iconic design of the cover of the Beatle’s Sergeant Pepper album. And, of course, that featured in the exhibition.

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Picture source: Wikipedia

I was also aware of his cover design for another album I own, Paul Weller’s Stanley Road.

Stanley Road - album cover

And he has designed album artwork for a number of other bands, and many of them featured in the exhibition together with other works inspired by pop and rock musicians

The exhibition website explains

Blake has worked closely with some of the most influential musicians of his generation, most famously co-creating the iconic album cover for the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In more recent years his designs for albums by Paul Weller, Eric Clapton and Oasis are equally celebrated, and are shown here against a soundtrack of killer pop music. Peter Blake is a true fan, and this exhibition is a compelling tribute to one of Britain’s most important artists.

The first picture you see on entering the exhibition is his Self-portrait With Badges (1961), featuring the artist wearing his denim jeans and a denim jacket covered with badges, wearing Converse trainers and holding an Elvis album.

Moving round the exhibition space, there were pictures and collages inspired by performers he admired, including several featuring Elvis Presley– Blake was clearly a massive fan. A number of these works were collages and mixed media incorporating “found objects”. There were a number of references to Marcel DuChamp who was clearly a major influence on his work.

One of my favourites in this section was his oil painting on wood and mirror glass featuring Lavern Baker. I also liked his print of Chuck Berry in his trademark “duck walk” pose. Blake had incorporated diamond dust into this print and he’s used this in a number of the other works on display.

One room featured prints and paintings of his album art and items related to the Beatles and the Sergeant Pepper album cover. It’s hard to believe that he only received a flat fee of £200 for his design. Of course that was a significant sum in the late 1960’s, but given the number of sales of the album I couldn’t help but feel he’d been treated badly.

Another rock artist Blake was connected with was Ian Drury, who’d been a student of Blake at Waltham Forest College. The two became friends and Blake produced album covers for him and painted his picture. Dury wrote a song in honour of Blake – “Peter the painter” – which featured on his album, “4,000 Weeks’ Holiday”. 

No photography was allowed, but he gallery have  Flickr site which includes a set of pictures from the exhibition (including the above photograph).

I’m glad I found the time to go over to see this exhibition. Peter Blake is an important British artist and this was a good opportunity to see some of his work. And as a music fan myself, I the themes certainly resonated with me.