Chris Killip 1946 – 2020

Chris Killip, Photographer

From Peter Brabban

One of Chris Killip’s most iconic photographs, courtesy Chris Killip Photography Trust

The death of Chris Killip, in October 2020, brought to an end the career of one of Britain’s best post-war photographers. Killip was born in Douglas, Isle of Man. He left school at 16 to work as a trainee hotel manager, while also working as a beach photographer. In 1964, aged 18, he moved to London where he worked as an assistant to the advertising photographer Adrian Flowers. Killip soon went freelance. In 1969, Killip ended his commercial work to concentrate on his own photography and in 1975 he won a two-year fellowship from Northern Arts to photograph the northeast of England. He moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to pursue this work, to which Creative Camera magazine devoted its entire May 1977 issue.

In 1977, Killip became co-founder, exhibition curator, and adviser at the Side Gallery, Newcastle. He worked as its first director for 18 months. He produced a body of work from his photographs in the North East of England, published in 1988 as In Flagrante with a text by Berger and Sylvia Grant. These black and white images, ‘portraits of Tyneside’s working-class communities amongst the signifiers of the region’s declining industrial landscape’, mostly made on 4×5 film, are now recognised as among the most important visual records of living in 1980s Britain. The writer and photographer Gerry Badger has described the photographs as “taken from a point of view that opposed everything [Thatcher] stood for”, and the book as “about community”, “a dark, pessimistic journey”. Sean O’Hagan of the Guardian described In Flagrante as one of the most important photography books of the 1980s, on account of the impactful and resonant nature of the photographs. Killip thrived on the political conflict of the 1980s. His work is confrontational, at times dark, and always challenging.

For the remainder of the 1980s he worked on a number of projects. In 1991 he moved to the USA as a visiting lecturer at Harvard University. He was made a tenured Professor in 1994, and remained Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies until 2017.

He died from lung cancer in October 2020. Any labour historian of the North East should spend some time viewing In Flagrante before diving into the history of the region in the 1970s and 1980s. It is a key document.

Thanks to the Guardian obituary by Sean O’Hagan, 16 Oct 2020