The Legacy Of Tish Murtha's Photography From Her Daughter's Perspective


A few months ago we introduced you to Tish Murtha, a woman who famously documented a photography series highlighting the hardship and deprivation of adolescents growing up in 1980's Newcastle.

Today we introduce you to Ella Murtha, who provides us with a deeper insight into the motives and methods of her mother's work as well as the impact and legacy that these images hold.

Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha

The 'Youth Employment´ series certainly provides a captivating story of hardship & deprivation, but what inspired Tish to capture this particular subculture?

The pictures and text in the original Youth Unemployment exhibition were a direct response to the rising rate of unemployment among the area's youth, part of a national trend that had reached catastrophic proportions in the Thatcher era. They are inspired by love and also anger.

Many of the shots invoke a degree of emotion and intimacy. What relationship did Tish have with these subjects?

My mam’s interest in photography was always on a practical level, she loved to photograph people and she was always very interested in them. She didn’t get the level of intimacy and humanity in her images by being an opportunist, she genuinely cared about the people she documented. They were her family, friends, and neighbors. She wanted to try and help in the only way she could - with her camera.

Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha

What were Tish's intentions by publicizing and exhibiting these photos?

The series portrayed what Tish saw as the dereliction of young lives amid the dereliction of an area with more than double the unemployment rate of the city as a whole. It was a response to the Thatcher government's ”Free Market” philosophy as she felt this has opened up a period of bitter conflict as young people grew more and more frustrated and refused to accept the logic of an economic system which deprived them of a productive and meaningful future. She hoped by showing the reality of these kids lives, and the waste and squandering of their potential, that she could somehow bring about a change, make people take notice and stimulate discussions on real issues through her photography. She managed to achieve this, when her essay Youth Unemployment in the West end of Newcastle’ was discussed in the House of Commons in February 1981.

Political agendas continue to affect the youth of today. Do you believe there is anything we can learn from these pictures forty years on?

Yes, I think my mams images are a stark warning in these days of austerity, the pressures are complex and far-reaching and will have social and political implications that dominate the years to come. Her words, in particular, her caution that “unemployed, bored, embittered and angry young men and women are fuel for the fire” for “barbaric and reactionary forces in society” looking to make political capital from them, cannot be ignored.

Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha

We are informed that you are soon to release a book on the Youth Employment series. Can you tell us a little more about what this will include?

The limited edition hardback book titled Youth Unemployment' is due to be published in late 2017 by Bluecoat Press. It includes a foreword by Magnum photographer David Hurn, an essay by Professor Val Williams, and the original essay Tish wrote to accompany her exhibition titled ' Youth Unemployment in the west end of Newcastle' along with 70 images from Youth Unemployment.

Visit Tish Murtha's website to learn more & explore the iconic range of Tish´s photography as well as information regarding the publication of the Youth Unemployment series which is currently in the printing process.

written by nicholasbacon on 2017-11-13 #news


  1. mtsteve
    mtsteve ·

    These are so striking!!

  2. jaunman
    jaunman ·

    Thatcher the milk snatcher! - Incredible images that captured the time.

  3. akula
    akula ·

    Well done.

  4. chas52
    chas52 ·

    Looking back the Seventies always looks like one of the poorest decades, so depressed, great photos though

  5. vidalca
    vidalca ·

    Amazing pictures, I miss this kind of authenticity in documentary photography! We need to educate our eyes in order to get involved with our real material world.

  6. memorykeeper1960
    memorykeeper1960 ·

    Wonderful work, full of humanity, she was a great witness to a difficult time.

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