Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men

19 May – 28 August 2017

Pioneering British photographer Shirley Baker (1932-2014) is thought to be the only woman practicing street photography in Britain during the post-war era. Baker’s humanist documentary work received little attention throughout her sixty-five years career. This exhibition includes previously unseen colour photographs by Baker alongside black and white images and ephemera such as magazine spreads, contact sheets and various sketches. It specifically focuses on her depictions of the urban clearance programmes of inner city Manchester and Salford. This intense period of study, spanning from 1961 – 1981, documents what Baker saw as the needless destruction of working class communities.

Her photographs testify to the poverty and resilience of communities under siege. In examining these street scenes, the exhibition aims to highlight Baker’s appreciation of alternate values and life experiences found in this community while conveying her compassionate affection, empathy and indignation for the plight of her subjects.

Images are presented in narrative and thematic, rather than chronological sequence, in which people and places from different times co-exist to evoke experiences, memories and relationships. Photographs are arranged in groupings starting with mothers and children and continuing with gangs of children playing in the street, single figures and couples engaged in everyday life. Men, mainly elderly or unemployed, make rarer appearances in her compositions. Their idle, sidelined presence conveys a sense of the passing of time and of loss.

The final set of images presents broken urban landscapes, rubble, junk and abandoned shops and houses. These stark vistas emanate social destruction and a feeling of vulnerability, which stands in sharp contrast to the lively scenes of the early 1960s.

Accompanying the exhibition is a specially commissioned soundscore composed by Derek Nisbet, which includes noises from the streets of children playing and vehicles moving along with Baker’s voice, taken from an interview she made in 1992.


Further information
  • Opening times Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 5.00 pm
  • Location Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL
  • This is a free exhibition
  • Further information 0161 235 8888