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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  Look past the faded fashions of punk rock and the cars of the time, and the images become far more than a historical document.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.
On my way back through the village, a group of people was spied on Chapel Street, a road that leads from the boat sheds. Excitedly I zoomed in hoping to see if I could spot resemblances to those in Killip’s images but this time the faces are not visible due to the blurring of the Google privacy policy. I left Google Street View lacking any more knowledge then I had gained from the series of Killip’s.  I felt disappointed at not being able to see the faces of those pictured and it confirmed that this was the exact power of Killip’s images.  It is his engagement with those he photographs.  By using a large plate camera Killip was in no way discrete in taking his images.  His are not surreptitious photographs but blatant and obvious in having the consent of those he is photographing.
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

Posted by author: Andrea Norrington
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5 thoughts on “Skinningrove

  • I was looking at the film yesterday Andrea as part of my research for Documentary. I thought it was a fascinating account and reminded me very much of the work of James Ravilious who recorded life in rural North Devon over 17 years during the 70’s and 80’s. Like Killip, he formed close relationships with a lot of his subjects. Seven years ago I called into Skinningrove for tea and scones while walking the Cleveland way. The ladies serving tea at the Riverside Café and Community Centre talked about the history of the place, and the effects of the closure of the mine and later the steel works. Small close-knit communities like this are rare in the south but I am working on a few ideas.

    • I only discovered James Ravilious last year through a recommendation from Jesse and can’t believe I hadn’t come across his work before. The DVD on Ravilious is well worth watching as it gives a very good insight into his work and integration with subjects.

  • This was an interesting account of a small, tightly-knit community in which the photographer Chris Killip had taken time and trouble to integrate himself to the point at which he became unobtrusive and accepted. He clearly knew the people well and can recall them even now, years later, in much detail. Thanks for sharing.

  • I managed a trip to Tate Britain at the end of last week to view the work on display. Well worth a visit if you are in the area. There is a section of prints from his major projects – Seacoal, Skinningrove and Pirelli but also some much earlier work from the 1970s that I was not so familiar with.

  • Thank you for posting this. When I saw Chris Killip on a late night culture show on TV (I must have been about 17 or so) I decided to become a photographer. Its been an interesting journey from then. I recently had a long conversation with him from Huddersfield (where he started making photographs) to his office at Harvard University in the USA, where we shared some stories on the state of the UK in the 1980s. Great work. Great influence and a very knowledgeable mean. I still use his analysis of Walker Evans with my students when I am trying to get them to describe photographs as the basis for image analysis. Great reminder. Many thanks
    Garry Clarkson (Tutor)

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