Rare Shirley Baker Photographs On View at James Hyman Gallery

June 21, 2020

The development of post-war photography is often attributed to male figures, despite the immense domains of women such as Diane Arbus or Lee Miller. However, the history of this medium is gradually rewritten in favor of gender equality and outstanding oeuvres are being rediscovered, like that of Shirley Baker.

Baker was a British photographer who had a particular interest in street portraits of the working class. Throughout the decades she masterfully observed the social landscape of a society that was and still is divided by class.

Until recent years, her work was not widely recognized, and to contribute to a better understanding of it, James Hyman Gallery, a venue specialized in British modern art, decided to present the selection of rarely seen works of Shirley Baker with an online exhibition.

Left: Shirley Baker - Manchester, 1985. C- Type colour print, 20 x 15 cm (8 x 6 in) / Right: Shirley Baker - Manchester, 1968. Vintage Gelatin Silver Print, 29 x 21 cm (11 x 8 in)

The Domains of An Exceptional Female Photographer

Nowadays, Shirley Baker is recognized as one of the acclaimed British photographers of the post war period, especially because at the time she began her career there were barely any women active within the field. 

Under the influence of Bill Brandt's pioneering study of The English at Home (1938) and socially charged photo stories by other photographers published at the Picture Post magazine, she created a recognizable style of street photography in Manchester and Salford that differed from her London peers active at the time.

Baker's documentary work was infused with profound understanding for everyday issues of the working class during the 1960s and the late 1970s when the British society was passing through radical changes.

The black and white images are characterized by the contrast between the grim backgrounds and the portrayed subject, especially children and women.

Shirley Baker - Chester, 1966. Vintage Gelatin Silver Print, 28 x 34.5 cm (11 x 14 in)

The Presentation

The upcoming exhibition will focus on the depiction of older people Baker captured around in the north of England. Nan Levy, Shirley Baker’s daughter, who co-curated the show with James Hyman, stated the following:

We are now starting to see the easing of the lockdown and with that we can begin to step outside, enjoy the sunshine and play sport. Sadly our elderly folk are still advised to stay safe at home; unable to see their loved ones or enjoy simple pleasures such as going to the park. I have gathered together a collection of Shirley’s photographs taken from the mid 60s to the mid 80s; these show older people enjoying their daily lives in the community in a way that is not possible at the moment.

Left: Shirley Baker - Chester, 1960. Vintage Gelatin Silver Print, 33 x 24.5 cm (13 x 10 in) / Right: Shirley Baker - Manchester (Musician), 1985. C- Type colour print, 30.5 x 30.5 cm (12 x 12 in)

Shirley Baker at James Hyman Gallery

Although it will focus on a particular aspect of Shirley Baker’s impressive body of work, this on line presentation will undoubtedly underline her domains which seem more than relevant in early post COVID 19 moment especially saturated with issues concerning class and labor.

Shirley Baker. A Different Age will be accessible from 22 June to 24 July 2020 via James Hyman Gallery website.

Featured image: Shirley Baker - Untiled (women with cows), 1983. C- Type colour print, 16.7 x 23.5 cm. All images courtesy James Hyman Gallery.

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