In the years following the economic downturn in Northern England in the 1970s and 80s, photojournalist Chris Killip spent his time documenting the individual pain, poverty, and loss of purpose. This intimate portrayal of these communities became one of the most famous documentary photobooks in history, entitled In Flagrante, which is Latin for "in blazing" or better known as "caught red-handed". These challenging images proved to be quite controversial as they depicted the real life consequences of the deindustrialization of England and therefore was seen as critical of the then reign of Margaret Thatcher.
The J. Paul Getty Museum recently acquired all 50 images seen in the book, now out of print, for their permanent collection and recently showcased the work as a special exhibit. While looking at these intimate portraits of these communities, all I could think of was the vulnerability. How each person depicted was experiencing an incredibly personal moment in which they allowed someone to document their isolation and fear. The stark contrast of the images only make the shots more candid and earnest, capturing the minute, filled with breathtaking emotional capacity. Although the viewer has some knowledge of the context, the images leave vast individual interpretation, completing a full circle connection between the subject and the viewer.
In conjunction with the In Flagrante exhibit, The Getty showcased two of Killip's other photojournalist projects, Seacoal and Skinningrove. Both continue Killip's stylistic intimacy and most so in his photographic depiction of Seacoal, in which Killip spent six years gaining the trust of the people of Lynemouth, a small coastal village in Northeastern England, in order to photograph their stories. During 1983 and '84, Killip slept in a caravan, documenting and immersing himself in their struggles to survive. Seacoal Beach lies just south of a coalmine and powerstation, and the people who lived there spent their days fishing out coal from the water to then sell back to the nation. Labor intensive and rife with uncertainty, the families on the island provided Killip with innumerable images of hardship and determination, but also support, and camaraderie. My favorite part of the display was the recognizable faces throughout the series. Killip obviously spent time with these families, shooting them numerous times over the years, providing a storyline of his journey with them. This underlying theme sustained an even more personal aspect to Killip's already intimate work.
As someone unfamiliar with Chris Killip's contribution to photojournalism, I came away visually stimulated by his stark objective style and ultimately an unerring emotional involvement
"Rocker" and Rosie Going Home, Seacoal Beach, Lynemouth, Northumberland, 1983. Image courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum.
A Car Dumped On The Beach Has To Be Outmaneuvered by the Seacoalers, Lynemouth, Northumberland, 1982. Image courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Simon Being Taken To Sea For The First Time Since His Father Drowned, 1983. Image courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Angelic Upstarts at a Miners’ Benefit Dance at the Barbary Coast Club, Sunderland, Wearside, 1984. Image courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum.