The Battle of Byker

I missed the Radio 4 broadcast of The Battle of Byker about Finnish photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s work in this inner-city area of Newcastle on Friday morning (1 July 2011) where she talks about her work there since 1969 as a part of the Amber Films collective, and some of the people she photographed over the 40 or so years she has worked there talk about the area, but only because I was going out to take pictures, and this morning found time to listen to it (for the first time, although the BBC keep calling it ‘listen again’.)

Konttinen’s work in Byker is a unique record of an area most of which has now disappeared; sub-standard housing which has been largely demolished, replaced by a motorway and the Byker Wall estate. Although housing conditions were certainly improved, some of those in what had been a close-knit community were scattered across the city in order for the new Byker to be born. But this was in some ways a pioneering project that was a new vision of redevelopment, with a rolling programme that so far as possible did keep people in the area and also a scheme that actually consulted with the people of Byker, involving them in the design process of what was to be their new home – exactly the kind of thing I had been involved in pressing for in Manchester a couple of years earlier but we had failed to acheive.

Byker supplied a model which unfortunately has now largely been abandoned – as my recent post on the Heygate estate showed.  Ideas about community and people have been superseded in the rush for profit for developers. Even the current government recognise the importance of Byker, seeing it as the embodiment of the Big Society.

The Battle of Byker is well worth listening to, and remains available on the BBC iPlayer only for a week after the transmission, so don’t delay. It should have been much greater publicity by Radio 4, but they seem to have devoted all of their attention over the past few weeks to plugging Wimbledon. Though given our lack of tennis players it is hard to see why we still bother to watch this (and I’ve avoided doing so.)

While you are listening to the programme (or if you read this too late to listen to it) look at the work from Konttinen‘s  book and show Byker(1983)  in black and white and a smaller selection from her recent Byker Revisted in colour.

On the Amber Films web site you can read some recent news:

The photographs of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen and Amber’s films – an intertwined collective narrative of works between 1968 and 2010, documenting working class and marginalised communities in the North East of England – have been inscribed in the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register as an archive of national cultural significance!

The fight against the Arts Council’s inexplicable decision to axe Side Gallery as a revenue client in its ‘National Portfolio’ is continuing, although there is no recent news about it on the site – in April they did note that “The Arts Council has registered the strength of feeling and has indicated a desire to find other ways of supporting the gallery.” The petition which many of us signed was delivered to the AC in May, and you can read more about what I thought of their decision in my post written in March, Arts Council Cuts Side Off. But unfortunately there seems as yet to be no sign that the AC has truly recognised the value of what they should regard as the jewel in their photographic crown.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.