I stumbled across this film on Twitter last week. I was at home ill in bed and normally I save links to watch at a later stage. However this one I watched all the way through to the end and then I watched it again. The images have haunted me ever since. Being familiar with the work of Chris Killip, I wanted to explore the work further as he is a photographer that I often recommend to students.
In the 1980s, British photographer Chris Killip photographed an isolated fishing community at Skinningrove, North Yorkshire. Skinningrove is nestled on the coast between Whitby and Redcar. It is one of those places that unless you were heading for it, you would never find it.
Over a period of years Killip photographed the community however only four of the images from the series were ever published. If you are familiar with Chris Killip’s work In Flagrante you may recognize them.
In the film Killip talks about the images from Skinningrove, his relationship with the community and the people that he photographed. What we gain from the work is a wonderful sense of place and its inhabitants. Look past the faded fashions of punk rock and the cars of the time, and the images become far more than a historical document. Combined with the commentary from the film we have a sense of the personal history of the participants and the images are put in context.
This context is both geographical in that the lay of land is clearly shown; and personal as the stories of the people portrayed are told. Families and friendships, rites of passage are all told through the series. Photographed over a period of three years the work builds up a resonance that only this type of time period can give. The inhabitants get to know the photographer and get used to him being around. It is this working relationship between the subjects and the photographer that creates the ease within his images.
For my own interest I wanted to place Skinningrove, the North East is not an area that I am that familiar with. I searched on Google maps, having found it, I felt further intrigued, zoomed in and picked up the yellow figure to use the Street View function to explore the village. Views from Killip’s images were quickly spotted, now in colour rather then black and white. Little had seemed to change; the boats were still kept on the beach giving evidence that fishing was still part of the way of life here.
For students this type of engagement gained over such a long time frame is hard to factor in with the pace of assignment deadlines. However, there is much to be gained from having a default location or subject matter that you can use. You may photograph the same group of people or it could be a familiar location, the work could feature just abstract details but where each time you photograph different elements are revealed in the work.The key is a subject matter that you can return to time and time again. Having this default can be a backbone to your personal work, allowing you to try out new techniques, equipment or ideas.
Chris Killip currently has work on display at Tate Britain (until 28 September 2014).
Watch the film here
Image Credits: Chris Killip, Skinningrove; A film by Michael Almereyda