NEWCASTLE’S Side Gallery is exhibiting the work of Martine Franck and Daniel Meadows in a timely celebration of the working class culture of the North East.
From the moment humanity got its hands on the camera, we’ve been carefully documenting the world around us.
In the late 1960s, the Amber Collective turned its cameras away from the world “out there” and pointed them inwards instead, telling the stories of ordinary people from working class communities in the North East. It’s an approach they’ve championed ever since.
In memory of Martine Franck, who died in August, the Side Gallery, at Side on Newcastle Quayside, is exhibiting Northern Survey, a selection of photographs taken during a residency in the summer of 1978.
Franck’s work captureds the contrast between a life of scarcity spent on a council estate and a life of wealth spent in the countryside, but also picked up on some similarities as she concentrated on the most isolated and marginalised of people.
Yes, there’s hardship in these images, but there’s defiance too and a sense that things will get better.
Downstairs, Daniel Meadows’ Free Photographic Omnibus Northern Arts Exhibition tells an extraordinary tale.
In 1973, as part of an epic project to photograph a “cross-section of the English people”, Meadows created his own magical mystery machine, complete with bedroom, kitchen, darkroom and exhibition space, and took it on tour around the country.
Meadows arranged portrait sessions to get to know the people of Backworth, Walker and other communities before capturing their ordinary lives – full of little adversities and moments of joy – and made all the more affecting by the typewritten anecdotes accompanying them.
Of all the six regions he photographed, only one collection survived: the one held here at the Side Gallery.
Meadows has said: “That this one has survived does make me happy because, of them all, it was (I think) the best.”
During a discussion with an arts journalist from Manchester last year, I was thrilled to hear her refer to the Side Cinema as one of a “Holy Trinity” of independent cinemas in Newcastle, the other two being the Tyneside Cinema and the Star and Shadow.
“You’re so lucky here to live here,” she insisted.
Following the decision of the Arts Council to remove their revenue funding last year, Amber has fought tooth and nail to keep their Side Gallery and Side Cinema going.
Currently – as we reported on these pages last week – they are working on a new film, Between the Mud and the Farthest Star, using a crowd-funding scheme. Support them via www.amber-online.com or by attending a special fundraising do at the Side Cinema tonight at 7.30pm.
Cast members will perform and some of the footage due to appear in the film will be screened. There will also be a screening of Side’s film The Filleting Machine.
All this for a fiver. Buy tickets online or turn up on the night, although be warned that capacity at this very snug venue is limited.
The current Side exhibitions run until December 22.
By Toni Marie Ford