Tish Murtha

       I attended the excellent Tish Murtha exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in London.

            Murtha was a student of David Hurn on the Documentary Photography course at the Newport College of Art. The exhibition covers her work from 1976 to 1991 and includes six major bodies of work from her oeuvre.

            Her first project was Newport Pub, which was in response to a set assignment. The subjects were the ‘regulars’ of a pub in a ‘deprived’ area of Newport. I think it’s important to consider when viewing this set of images that in 1976 when the images were produced was just 10 years after the dreadful Aberfan disaster and it is worth considering and comparing the images taken by I.C. Rapoport  at the time (see also my blog).

            Of particular significance for me is Murtha’s project Elswick Kids (1978). Although I didn’t come from an area with a ‘collapsed shipbuilding industry’, I can certainly relate to her image of kids playing in a derelict car, this was a familiar pastime in my neighbourhood when I was a kid. Murtha’s image has captured a sense of adventure and pending adulthood learning basic motoring skills.

            My favourite image of the whole exhibition is from the series Elswick Revisited (1987~1991). I can really feel the despair of the young woman sitting in an upturned armchair picking at the embers of a fire. Even though this image was only taken 30 years ago it is still very reminiscent of post-war Britain.

            I particularly liked the letter that David Hurn had written in 1976 in support of Murtha’s application to purchase an Olympus OM1 and an f1.8 50 mm lens from Dixons, Newport, agreeing to be ‘a guarantor’.

            Whilst I was at the Photographers’ Gallery I purchased the last copy of Tish Murtha’s Newport Tip 1978 to add to my collection of Café Royal Books (CRBs). Newport Tip 1978 is a collection of sometimes humorous, but oft-times sad images of life in Newport of the era.

            The Tish Murtha exhibition is on until 14thOctober and I can highly recommend a visit.


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