Shirley Baker – whose work covers the 1950s to 2000 – might be the best street photographer you’ve never heard of.
By Oliver Lunn
Shirley Baker is not a big name in street photography, but there are plenty of people who think she should be. Best known for her work in the north of England, Baker – who died in 2014 – was an obsessive shooter who was labelled a pioneer by the Photographers’ Gallery, “thought to be the only woman practicing street photography in Britain during the post-war era”.
How is it that an innovator of street photography could have been so criminally underlooked? To find out, I spoke to Lou Stoppard, the editor of a new book that provides the first full survey of Baker’s work from the 1950s to 2000.
VICE: What struck you about Shirley Baker’s body of work?
Lou Stoppard: I was surprised by the breadth of it. I was aware of Shirley’s work around the north of England. I was aware of her pictures of Manchester and Salford from the 60s and 70s, because there had been exhibitions and publications. When I eventually saw the wider body of work – Shirley’s daughter had it in her attic in boxes – it extended right into the early-2000s; there were pictures in different locations beyond the north, there were pictures of London, the south of France. Quite quickly I had this gut feeling that Shirley had been under-appreciated and slightly pigeonholed as a documentary photographer capturing life in the north of England.
Did you pick up on any running themes or visual motifs?
Yeah, for sure. She definitely had an interest in the quieter moments that other people would miss. Often when you look at Shirley’s pictures, people almost seem to be performing. But you realise that they’re not doing anything greatly theatrical; she just had an eye for these moments of humour, intimacy and oddness.[…]