Born in Finland in 1948, Sirrka-Liisa Konttinen studied photography in the UK in the 1960s. In 1969 she began a long-term project, interviewing and photographing the residents of Byker, an area of Newcastle, where she lived. Above: David, with daughters Kadie and Robyn-and Ty-dog, 2008. © Sirrka-Liisa Kontinnen/Amber Collective
The entire area, largely comprised of Victorian structures covered in industrial soot, was razed during the Thatcher years to make way for modern housing blocks. By invitation of Bykert’s education center, she returned to the area, in 2004, to create a new body of photographs, entitled ‘Byker Revisited’.
“There’s the obvious question of how documentary photography has changed over this period. For me it changed from an observational approach to the more collaborative method, reflecting the change in the access I had to people’s lives.
Back then I lived in the area and no one worried about a young woman walking about with a camera. Nowadays people worry if there are people with cameras around children. I don’t think I would have been able to do now, what I did then. So this time I collaborated with people. We’d talk and try to come up with one image to portray them.”
“I photographed a very dignified, elderly lady from Beirut and she said, ‘you must photograph my grandson, who lives a couple of doors down with his family. They were about to move out, and the whole place was in boxes. I set up the tripod and lights, and framed the picture carefully, but I hoped something spontaneous would happen. Then his dog, a bull terrier, appeared from the kitchen and leapt up onto the seat; the father started blowing soap bubbles. The dog got so excited – snapping, trying to catch the bubbles. I didn't take too many shots, as it was over so quickly, and they had to get back to their packing. But the moment of drama encapsulates things beyond the photograph. There is a lot of fragility in this community, it's very transient: to me, the soap bubble symbolizes that.”
Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Byker Revisited and The Hoppings open Friday, January 30, at L. Parker Stephenson Gallery. 764 Madison, between 65-66th Streets, NY, NY.
View black-and-white images from Byker on Lens Blog here.