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Remembering Chris Killip Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

14 October 2020

British documentary photographer Chris Killip, a key figure in post-war British photography, has died from lung cancer. He was 74.

His best-known work was In Flagrante, a collection of images he captured in England's North East from 1973 to 1985 which he published as a photo book in 1988.

"The working class get it in the neck basically, they're the bottom of the pile," he said of his subjects. "I wanted to record people's lives because I valued them. I wanted them to be remembered."

Killip used a 4x5 large format camera for those monochromatic images showing the devastating effects of deindustrialization on the lives of the population. It occasioned a more intimate relationship with his subjects than a smaller camera might have.

He was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man in 1946. After leaving school at the age of 16, he got a job at the only four star hotel as a trainee hotel manager. In 1964, he took up photography full time, becoming a beach photographer to earn enough to leave the Isle of Man.

'I wanted to record people's lives because I valued them.'

That year he moved to London, landing a job as a third assistant to Adrian Flowers, a leading advertising photographer. Killip began working as a freelancer in the 1960s, shooting commercial work before he devoted himself to documentary photography in 1969.

That year he returned to the Isle of Man, working at his father's pub at night and returning to London to print his negatives.

A two-year fellowship in 1975 funded his North East project before it was heralded by Creative Camera in 1977, which devoted its entire May issue to the project.

In 1977 Killip became a founder, exhibition curator and advisor at the Side Gallery, Newcastle, where he served as director for 18 months.

In 1988 Pirelli UK commissioned him to photograph its Burton tire factory. Killip wanted to use available light in the dark environment despite the black product but it didn't go well. So he switched to flash and a large-format camera and got the shots.

If major British art and photography institutions overlooked him, he had an enormous influence on younger British documentary photographers and was made a professor of visual and environmental studies at Harvard University,

Following In Flagrante, Killip published his Irish photographs from 1992 to 2004 in Here Comes Everybody. He also published collections in Seacoal and Arbeit/Work.

After his son Matthew discovered Killip's forgotten contact sheets, he published four large-format zines in 2018: Portraits, The Station, Skinningrove and The Last Ships.

Killip's work is featured in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; George Eastman House; Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; Museum Folkwang, Essen; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

"I didn't set out to be the photographer of the English de-Industrial Revolution," he said. "It happened all around me during the time I was photographing."

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