The University of Manchester Library has recently acquired a body of work by the Manchester photographer Shirley Baker (9 July 1932 – 21 September 2014). A British photographer of great skill, best known for her social documentary street photographs, especially of working-class, inner-city areas of Greater Manchester. Her distinctive photography shows an engagement with the everyday and a compassion for the human condition encompassing the huge social changes of the 1950s onwards.
Shirley Baker was born in Kersal, North Salford. Her childhood passion for photography led her to study Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology and she later went on to do courses at London Regent Street Polytechnic and London College of Printing. She is credited with being one of a handful of women in post-war Britain to receive formal photographic training. Shirley became a lecturer at Salford College of Art and Manchester Polytechnic, now Manchester Metropolitan University. However, she returned to her first love of freelance photography, which gave her the freedom and ‘time to observe, making her own pictures, resulting in collections of photographs that explore British society in transition following World War II and leading up to the more materialistic 1990s.’
Our examples are of Shirley’s ‘street photography’; a genre of photography that records everyday life in a public place, depict children at play outside their homes or on the streets where they lived. They show children absorbed in the moment, capturing their enjoyment and their intent on their games. The children appear unstaged and natural, maybe ignorant of the fact that they are central to the photograph. Much of her work from this time specifically focuses on depictions of the urban clearance programmes of inner-city Manchester and Salford. The period spanning 1961 – 1981 saw her work highlight what many saw as the needless destruction of working-class communities. Her inclusion of the dilapidated buildings and the car as backdrops give credence to the image’s era-defining character. All of these photographs are imbued with a fascination and enjoyment of the everyday that epitomise Shirley’s work.
Our collection is tiny, only comprising of three of her photographs, but we hope they reflect her significant contribution to the world of social documentary photography, particularly representing the North West, and that they enhance our growing photography portfolio as they join the works of Martin Parr, Richard Davies and Mark Warner on our shelves.
 Shirley Baker Photographer https://shirleybakerphotography.com/
Shirley Baker Obituary, The Guardian, 8 October 2014
With thanks to the Estate of Shirley Baker. All images Copyright of the Shirley Baker Estate; digital image courtesy of the University of Manchester.