Shirley Barker:
Women and Children;
and Loitering Men Exhibition.
The Manchester Art Gallery.

On a wet rainy day in Manchester, I went to see the social documentary photographer Shirley Barker’s exhibition at The Manchester Art Gallery. Aptly named Women and Children; and Loitering Men.

Her images depict a Manchester of the sixties and seventies in the midst of change, as terraced streets are torn down only to be replaced with modern high-rise flats. Her images conjure up an era of family life, tradition and hardship. With the people of Salford hoping that the new high-rise living in the sky would bring them a better life. Not realising that family life and traditions would be lost in the corridors and piss smelling lifts of these towering blocks of concrete, leaving only the hardships as a reminder of their old lives.

The exhibition is split into two sections. As you enter you are greeted by black and white images of matriarchs gossiping on the run down terraced streets while casting a protective eye on the children freely playing all around them. Old men in flat caps wondering around devoid of purpose. With demolition, dust and dirt an everyday challenge for the people of Salford, regarding this as their lot in life. Only the children are excited at the prospects of playing hopscotch and football on these run down streets. As derelict houses become their playground and a place for their imagination to run free.

Then upon entering the next section of Shirley Barker’s exhibition, we see her colour photographs. These for me had such a punch that it took your breathe away. The nostalgia of the black and white images are replaced by the clarity of colour that bring home the poverty that was endured by the people of Salford. The narrative of Barkers colour images far out weigh her black and white work as you can almost taste the dust in the air and touch the dereliction so realistically portrayed.

Although I have never come across Shirley Barkers work before, which is a shame. Her photography has such a strong sense of place with a narrative that is real. As I leave the exhibition I am glad this was not my life in these pictures.