Michael Hoppen Gallery opens an exhibition of photographs by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

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Michael Hoppen Gallery opens an exhibition of photographs by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen
Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Lost Children, from The Hoppings, 1971. Signed, dated, and titled in pencil verso. Silver gelatin print. Printed 2014. Paper size: 40.5 x 50.5 cm. Image size: 26 x 39 cm. Frame size: 43.5 x 56.5 cm.

LONDON.- Michael Hoppen Gallery is presenting its first exhibition at its new location. This group of hand-made silver gelatin prints by the Finnish photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen were all taken during her time spent living in Byker, Newcastle, during the 1960s and 70s.

After moving up north from London in 1969, Konttinen came upon the area Byker by chance, and immediately fell in love with it. This marked the beginning of her relationship with the local community there and the seminal photographs that she produced documenting local life over the next decade. She was drawn to the laughter, the children playing in the streets, the energy. For her, this blue-collar district of Newcastle brimmed with life as it teetered on the brink of a huge cultural shift - a period when the shipyard industry collapsed and developers had been commissioned to destroy the period Victorian terraced houses to make way for redevelopment of the area. “Newcastle was a stunning visual place to be in,” Konttinen says, “it was always a very proud community established over generations, and they wanted to stay that way. But the gap between demolition and the houses being built was sometimes many years, and people had to move out and never came back.”

The resulting body of work, “Byker”, from street photography to intimate portraits in people’s homes, finds a resilient and proud human spirit amid the outwardly modest living spaces. When the developers finally moved in, Konttinen moved on to other projects, but her photographs toured the world as social documentary and sublime compositions. This series has been described as being of "outstanding national value to the United Kingdom" by UNESCO.

"Standing on top of Byker Hill in 1790, clergyman John Wesley exclaimed of the breath-taking panorama beneath his feet: 'A vision of Paradise!' Presumably, it actually excluded Byker, since Byker then was a village. His vision of Paradise was the city of Newcastle down in the valley.

For me, in 1970, the vision began from the hill, sweeping down along the steep cobbled streets with row upon row of terraced flats, into the town, over the river and the bridges and beyond. The streets of Byker, serene in the morning sun with smoking chimney pots, offered me no Paradise; but I was looking for a home." — Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, in the Introduction to her book "Byker", 1983

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