Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

I last wrote about the work of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen a couple of years ago, when the BBC had just broadcast a radio programme about her work. I bought her book ‘Byker‘ when it came out in 1983, and even the rather dull reproduction (standards really have improved greatly) couldn’t hide the power of her work on this area on the edge of Newcastle in a period when it was being completely redeveloped.

It was a subject that appealed to me as well as fine photography. The redevelopment of Byker in the 1970s showed how planners had learnt at least from some of the mistakes of the earlier decade that had taken me into political activism on the streets of Manchester before I became a photographer.

Born in Finland, Konttinen had come to London to study film at the Regent Street Polytechnic and there with like-minded fellow students had formed a collective to make documentary films. Amber Films had a commitment to documenting working-class life, and though they had started in London soon found that the capital was too expensive to live and work and moved to Newcastle, a city 300 miles to the north, where the older industries which it had depended on were in severe decline. She fell in love with Byker, moved in and lived there for 11 years, getting to know the people. Being a foreigner and being a young woman was almost certainly an advantage as she went round getting to know people and taking pictures, and as she writes “The first night I sat alone in the ‘Hare and Hounds’ I was taken under the collective wing.” And over the years she really did become a part of the community she was photographing and she goes on to write of her neighbour pointing “out proudly: ‘When she first came in our street, she couldn’t tell hello from tarra, and now she speaks Finnish with a Geordie accent.'”

I mention her again because her work  is featured on the New York Times Lens blog  Byker in Black and White and again today in Bringing Color to Newcastle The mention comes with a show in New York at the L. Parker Stephenson Gallery from 15 Feb until 18 May 2013 and a lecture by Konttinen at the International Center for Photography on Feb 13 which should be streamed live (and at some point make its way into their archive on the same page.)

Although the BBC programme linked on my page no longer has the audio available, the text does perhaps give a slightly different view (as too do my comments), and the other links on my page still seem to work, taking you among other places to Konttinen’s page on Amber Online, where as well as work from ‘Byker’ and ‘Byker Revisited‘ you can also see pictures from eight of her other projects.

On the Side Gallery page of the Amber website there is some more about her trip to New York, including a link to a short film on making her ‘spacehopper’ print.

One Response to “Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen”

  1. On Facebook by Joan Hewitt:

    Dear Harrriet Harman, ( cc. Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle council; Veronica Dunn (councillor for Byker for );Tony Durcan, Head of Culture and Libraries; Tony McKenna, Head of Leisure; David Faulkner, Leader of the Opposition; Newcastle MPs Chi Onwurah, Catherine McKinnell, and Nicholas Brown;Euro MPs Martin Callanan ,Stephen Hughes, and FIona Hall; and Alan Campbell, North Tyneside MP.

    Newcastle, holding its breath, welcomes the news that 100 percent Arts cuts will not be applied.

    Below is just one example of how the local can become international, arouse interest in the city, increase visitors from outside the region and abroad, and keep our tourist economy thriving.
    Byker Ward is hot arts news in New York this week, with an enthusiastic article in the New York TImes on the opening of the photographic exhibition of award- winning Newcastle photographer Sirkka- Liisa Konttinen( Amber- Side film and photography, Dean St.)

    The newspaper has set up , most unusually, not one but two blogs: the old Byker( in black and white ); and Byker Revisited, Sirkka’s colour documentation of the mix of ethnic groups in the new Byker , made 30 years later,

    In 2011, UNESCO recognized Konttinen’s photographs and her collective, Amber’s, films as being of “outstanding national value and importance to the United Kingdom” and inscribed them in the UK Memory of the World Register.

    The arts are not only escapism and entertainment for the middle classes: they can validate and imaginatively expand the lives of our city’s poorest residents, as shown by the Byker photographic projects and other arts initiatives with disadvantaged, young, old, unemployed and sick people.

    Yours sincerely,

    Joan Hewitt,

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