Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Byker Reinvented

In 1983 photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, one of the key founders of the Amber collective documenting Newcastle past and present, published an now infamous collection of one of the poor marked areas of the east end of Newcastle - that of, and entitled Byker. Documenting the terraced streets which she lived among for seven years, her work captures the hazy lines of row upon row of working class homes, the people and the faces, three of which can be seen below.

Twenty years on Konttinen has returned to the ground which created and marked her fortune, yet Byker has changed in her absence. Living across the street in Heaton as a student, Byker was always on my doorstop, while the streets showed is downturn, its marginalisation away from the city centre and the reinvestment provided to other areas of the city Byker is a melting pot for cultures.

Many of the original streets documented in 1983 no longer exist, redevelopers bulldozed the terraced streets, the communities pushed apart to make way for intended redevelopment and building of the Byker Wall. Now her works focuses upon this "wall" of flats. While granted the dedication upon UNESCO's list of outstanding 20th century buildings, Byker Wall is credited with poor living conditions and lacking a sustainable community. Konttinen herself states she was drawn to the hard to let flats, ones often let out to refugee families.

The aim of this revisit to Byker is clearly noted, and in sharp contrast to the former black and white images these pictures and people are documented in vivid sharp colours.

"I wanted to give the people living in these flats a photograph they would be proud to present to the world, something to introduce themselves to their neighbours. People don't often know the people who live next door. It's my little fantasy, creating a virtual community through these portraits."

[Lee Hill, a teacher, and Betty Hill, an artist Byker 2006]

"The man ... at first he seemed a typical Byker lad, but he had a Lebanese grandmother. They were about to move out, and the whole place was in boxes. ... his dog, a bull terrier, appeared from the kitchen and leapt up onto the seat; the father started blowing soap bubbles. The dog got so excited – snapping, trying to catch the bubbles" (Cited from The Guardian)

[Colin 2009]

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, I am not a Northerner, I'm just studying at Durham Uni, so I don't recognise the streets of Byker, but the pics are very, very interesting, thank you!