A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the black and white photography of Sebastião Salgado. I have always been a person who loves colour, particularly in any form of artwork, but at the time I was struck by the power of Salgado’s work. I didn’t think any of his photos would be as striking or as effective in portraying his message if they were in colour.
This week I have come across another black and white photographer, who I have never encountered before, who strikes me as having taken equally powerful photos, but in a completely different context – Chris Killip. Chris Killip was born a few months before me in 1946 and died in October 2020 from lung cancer. Much of his photography focusses on the lives of working-class people living in North-East England, where I went to school. I have strong memories of sharing my bus journey home from school in County Durham with miners coming off their shift. My memory is of a bus full of big, silent men, black with soot from the pit. I wonder now if this is an accurate memory, because it must mean that they had no access to washing facilities before returning home, or perhaps they did but preferred to go home to wash.
I remember once being ill (gastric flu) when returning home from school on a crowded bus full of miners; standing room only. I threw up whilst standing in the aisle. Apart from taking a few steps away, no-one moved a muscle and complete silence remained on the bus. On reflection, I can only assume that they were all exhausted. And when I think of this, and some other aspects of my childhood in North-East England, my memory is in black and white, so I can see why Chris Killip was a black and white photographer. These images below, of copies of his photographs, show the power of his work and how appropriate it was to work in black and white. I just can’t imagine them being as powerful in colour.
(Source of all images: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-63163667 )
The Photographer’s Gallery in London, UK, is currently showing a retrospective exhibition of Killip’s work, which will remain open until the 19th February, 2023. If I lived nearer London, I would try and visit this exhibition, but I still live in the north of England.
For further information about Chris Killip see:
Chris Killip – https://www.chriskillip.com/
Williams, Megan (2022). A new Chris Killip retrospective adds depth to his remarkable career. https://www.creativereview.co.uk/chris-killip-retrospective-photography-exhibition/
Diane Smyth (2022) “History is what’s written, my pictures are what happened” https://www.magnumphotos.com/events/exhibitions/chris-killip-retrospective/