Shirley Baker, Manchester Art Gallery

'Women and Children; and Loitering Men'

Friday 19 May 2017–Monday 28 August 2017


Walking in the gallery space you are first presented with Shirley's early black and white photographs. The room is scattered with elders reminiscing over a Manchester that was once theirs. The images capture a time where children ran around pushing siblings prams with grazed knees, mothers and fathers gather outside door frames to natter, and the industrial air filtered through the cobbled streets. Baker captures day to day life within the working community. Some hold a humour to them, some present children in a more mature light. I felt there also was a constant motion with in her shots, always on the move, people walking, caught in mid conversation and buses in blurs.


There is a strong sense of community though out the show, bringing together different estates, statuses and powers, poverty being the main focus. But she presents them on a common ground by their humanity. The emotion in the room is similar. Couples, grandparents, families, walking round the room, clustering to see and ponder Bakers photographs, everyone is interested in how their neighbourhood used to be, as seen in the map to the bottom of the room.

A large map is presented on the back wall, containing a vast amount of miniature flags where people can place where they live, anonymously of course. You realise people from around the Manchester area are proud of their heritage. The map was logged with flags, most people probably crossing fellow attendees who live near by and not knowing it.

I really enjoyed the environment within this first room, the photographs had a cheeky vibe to them, a playfulness which only came from childhood freedoms in a working class poverty.

The adjoining room presented Bakers colour photographs, to me theses lacked the power the black and white shots held, but still retained the feelings of community, childhood and industrial Manchester, which seems to be getting a resurgence. The tones of the photographs capture the period they were shot. Darkened tones of blues, greens and grays with bursts of red and yellow.


The exhibit on a whole was well presented and the selection of photographs by Baker exhibited a range of her shots, from landscapes of children playing, to portraits of elders in doorways. The curation of the pieces I also thought was a great success. There was a flow to the room and clusters of particular photographs showing similar emotions were presented together, effecting you in a more dramatic way. It left you to stop and ponder, fully appreciating the photographs technical qualities, and the subjects photographed.