Tish Murtha, The Photographer Who Captured Britain’s Social Crises

Tish Murtha, Karen on overturned chair, Youth Unemployment 1980 © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved. Courtesy of Ella Murtha and The Photographers’ Gallery

In the landscape of British documentary photography of the latter decades of the 20th century, Tish Murtha’s is not a name that is often referenced. Image-makers like Martin Parr, Homer Sykes and David Meadows pioneered in those years, but Murtha also consistently created impactful photographs of Britain’s sidelined social communities. “I think what Tish captured compared to some other photographers – there was a lot of the working classes looking gritty but resolute, poor but happy – she captured a melancholy as well, and difficulties as well as enjoyment,” says Gordon MacDonald. “She caught more aspects of working class life than a photographer who’s coming in from the outside to a community possibly could.” Alongside Val Williams and Karen McQuaid, MacDonald has curated Tish Murtha: Works 1976–1991, which opens at The Photographers’ Gallery tomorrow. Bringing together six of Murtha’s series, the exhibition highlights how the photographer documented society’s substratum: regulars drinking in a Welsh pub (Newport Pub); life and traditions of the working classes in the North East of England (Elswick KidsJuvenile Jazz BandsYouth Unemploymentand Elswick Revisited); and the sex industry in Soho (London By Night).

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