New exhibition charts sixty years of life, work and leisure in Berwick upon Tweed

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New exhibition charts sixty years of life, work and leisure in Berwick upon Tweed
A group of girls paddling in the sea at Spittal, July 1959.

BERWICK UPON TWEED.- Documenting six decades of everyday life, the father and son photojournalism team of David and Ian Smith captured the friendships, characters and trades of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Although many of the photographs were taken at a time when life in northern England and Scotland was often depicted as tough or grim, the Granary Gallery’s new exhibition, Portrait of a Town, portrays a different reality.

You can almost smell the diesel, oil and exhaust fumes of the old bus garage, as a cleaning lady smiles for the camera, all while holding a metal bucket in one and hand and resting the other on top of her mop handle, the rolled-up sleeves of her cardigan suggest she has indulged the photographer mid-task.

However, it is her smile and those of many of the other subjects in Portrait of a Town – the jolly tailor, the shipyard workers, or the young woman with her dog – that the people of Berwick were happy to pose for photos and were, perhaps, familiar with David and Ian.

These images - along with that of a group of six teenage girls hoiking their dresses up to avoid being splashed by the waves as they paddle in the sea - encapsulate almost every aspect of life in Berwick between 1951, when David Smith founded his photojournalism business, until 2012, when his son Ian, retired.

An experienced photojournalist with a keen eye for a story, David Smith captured a wide range of subjects; from visiting celebrities - including The Beatles, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton - to a runaway circus elephant, not to mention a host of wedding and portrait commissions. As the business expanded, he opened the Photo Centre on Bridge Street and was joined by Ian and a team of staff photographers. When Ian hung up his camera, the company archive represented a remarkable record of the town and its people and was acquired by the Berwick Record Office.

Using over fifty images from the Photo Centre Collection, Portrait of a Town offers a glimpse into the lives of Berwick townspeople and some of the shops and industries which once thrived in the town, along with popular leisure time activities, ranging from darts teams to leek shows, plus actual news and life events.

“Local visitors will see the familiar in the individuals and places shown in the images”, says James Lowther, Head of Visual Art at Berwick Visual Arts. “Not only that, I think visitors will equally be able to enjoy something of an immersive, memory-laden and shared experience, as many of the photographs offer wonderful reminders of the changing fashions, styles and compositions spanning six decades.”

He adds: “The photographs and portraits in the exhibition also represent an important record of social history in Berwick and it would be fantastic if local people and those with connections to the town can help us to put names to the many faces on display. I’m sure there are many fascinating stories to be shared.”

Portrait of a Town has been commissioned by Berwick Visual Arts and Berwick Record Office (Northumberland Archives) and curated by Cameron Robertson. It has been supported by the Friends of Berwick & District Museum and Archives and the Community Foundation.

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