A new exhibition of Shirley Baker’s work is now taking place online at the James Hyman Gallery. Called ‘A Different Age’, it focuses on the lives of elderly people. Much of Shirley Baker’s work has centred on working class community life, the photographs taken in bomb-shattered post-war Manchester and Salford in the 1960s and 70s where Shirley would walk through the streets, tirelessly documenting its people. She was very much a street photographer – barely any of her work was taken indoors. This was also a time when everyone from babies to the elderly lived much of their lives in public rather than shut away indoors, where they could interact and chat and children could play in the relatively traffic-free streets.
We are living through curious times as we emerge through lockdown, and this has been a difficult time for our elderly in particular. Many have found themselves having to live in isolation, deprived of the chance to interact and engage with the wider community and with the loss of a sense of value.
These thoughts led Shirley’s daughter, Nan Levy to consider an exhibition highlighting her mother’s work where older people take centre stage. She says, “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.”
Thus was born this new exhibition which focuses on the elderly, enjoying their lives as a part of their communities, some enjoying hobbies and others sitting on their front steps or park benches. These depict the aspects that we are used to seeing from Shirley Baker: gentle, sometimes wryly amusing compositions, with older people enjoying aspects of daily life within the community.
Nan Levy and James Hyman Gallery have co-created A Different Age online exhibition with 20 images depicting elderly people from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, primarily in Manchester and Salford. Some of these images have not been seen before.
Shirley Baker (1932–2014) was born in Kersal, North Salford. She took up photography at the age of eight when she and her twin sister were given Brownie cameras by an uncle. As a child she developed her first black and white film in the darkness of the coal shed. Her passion for photography continued and she went on to study Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology.
She is said to be one of few women in post-war Britain to receive formal photographic training. Upon graduating, she held a position at Courtaulds the fabric manufacturers, as an in-house factory photographer. She much preferred working as a freelance writer and photographer on magazines, books and newspapers. The produced collections of photographs explore British society in transition following Word War II and leading up to the more materialistic 1990s.
With thanks to Mary Evans Picture Library