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Can You Have a Favourite Exhibition? Chris Killip returns to the Laing Gallery, Newcastle

Updated: Mar 8, 2020

Tyne Pride From a Back Lane, Wallsend

Get Carter is more than a film. Loved and cherished, and inherently so by people in Tyne and Wear, director Mike Hodges clearly expressed a period in the North East with grit, atmosphere, and realness. Respected hero and Photographer Chris Killip is also in this camp, masterfully capturing things as if you are observing the image live; watching their stories unfold. The Last Ships exhibition gladly returns to its rightful place at the Laing Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne, on Saturday 7th March 2020.

Born in 1948, Killip had a desire to leave the Isle of Man, so he became a beach photographer, and by 1964 he was the third assistant to an advertising photographer in the big smoke. Feeling inspired from a trip to New York, Chris returned to the Isle of Man, camera in hand, ready to shoot things differently. As he became more established, he started to shoot Huddersfield and Bury St Edmunds, creating Two Views – Two Cities, and then in 1975, he made a move to Newcastle, which leads us to The Last Ships.

His accidental timing was impeccable, between 1975 and 1977 He managed to capture shipbuilding in Wallsend and South Shields, including The Tyne Pride: the biggest ship ever constructed on the river and ultimately one of the last as an end of an era was looming. All of the work is black and white and sharp as a tack, with the scale of the ships against the backdrop of street life in Wallsend, giving an almost War of the Worldsesque feel.

Terraced Housing in Snow, Wallsend

For shot Terraced Housing in Snow, Wallsend, you instantly feel the cold chill in more ways than one. There in bright white paint are the words Don’t Vote Prepare For A Revolution. There are many photographs, including Looking East on Camp Road, Wallsend, where children are creating their fun, possibly unaware of what lays ahead, just before their little community came crashing to the floor along with the industry. Killip returned to the wall, and for the eerie Demolition, Wallsend, August 1977, everything was destroyed and pulled down, yet the white-painted message remained.

Men Leaving the Shipyard

The cranes are a sight to behold along with the many men leaving their shift at the end of a hard day's graft. The images are authentically stunning, but there is so much back-story, so many political messages behind all of this. Wallsend was never the same again, but this could be said for a great many places in the UK around that time. Chris Killip has captured important history where the tale needs to be kept alive and passed to a new generation.

May I recommend headphones and the Fontaines D.C. as accompaniment, just if you fancy. Emotive, graphic and subtle, it’s not large, it’s not fancy, but it captures and expresses so much that needs to be said. Can you say you have a favourite exhibition, with the endless choice we have? Well, this is wholeheartedly mine.

Article by Beverley Knight

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