“I think women photographers are very good at building relationships with their subjects” says Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, co-founder of Amber, a film and photography collective based in Newcastle that aims to capture working-class life in North East England. “They are more interested in the personal stories, and through these they get a much more intimate look into their subjects’ lives.”
Women by Women is a major presentation of the work of five female photographers working in the North East from the 1970s – 2000s. Curated by Konttinen, the photographs are drawn from projects originally commissioned by Amber, and the exhibition forms part of the Idea of North season at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle.
“The North is often associated with the male more than the female, in terms of what has been documented,” says Konttinen. “I thought it [the show] would make a strong statement about our collection being more balanced than is perceived by the outside world. It’s the idea of bringing women into the picture of the whole concept of the North.”
The exhibition starts with Konttinen’s Byker (1970), which was shot in the Newcastle district of the same name; it finishes with Karen Robinson’s All Dressed Up (2005) from East Durham – at the time the area with the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the UK. In between is work by Tish Murtha, Markéta Luskačová and Izabela Jedrzejczyk, including two different takes on juvenile jazz bands by Luskačová and Murtha, and Jedrzejczk’s portraits from her local, the Northumberland Arms in New Quay, North Shields.
Aside from Konttinen’s Step by Step (1980s), which documents a dance school in North Shields, none of the projects originally focussed exclusively on women. Instead Konttinen has selected specific images from the series, looking for photographs of women by women that tell stories about life in the North. “Each series is a narrative in its own right,” she says.