YOUTH unemployment, the bleakly laconic title of a newly published volume of photographs by Trish Murtha, belies her creative engagement and interpretative talent.
She was no privileged, middle-class photographer from the south, slumming it among the northern working classes.
She was born and brought up among the children, the teenagers and families portrayed in the book.
Murtha was one of the foremost members of the movement of independent documentary photographers active in Britain during the 1970s and ’80s. After taking a course in photography in her home town of Newcastle, she was accepted at Newport College of Art’s pioneering documentary photography department under the inspirational David Hurn.
She financed her own way through college by working in a nightclub during the evenings. Eschewing a career in glossy magazines and the mainstream press, she returned to her home city after graduating and concentrated on photographing the marginalised, ignored and forgotten.
She did this with an understanding and compassion unlikely to be found among those who just swan in and out to snap a few “northern” images for the mainstream press.
As a single mother with a young daughter, life was hard, but she was not one to look for an easy road. Photographing the daily realities of her own people was what gave her life a meaning and a purpose.
Sadly, she died at the relatively young age of 57 and this commemorative volume has been lovingly put together by her daughter Ella.
To leaf through these haunting black-and-white photos of the young unemployed families living on the edge is to witness how early unemployment can damage and truncate lives as surely as cancer does. The associated poverty destroys lives as effectively as bullets do.
Apart from a short but informative introduction about Murtha, this book contains only photographs but these speak more eloquently than any words could.
It’s a powerful document of the period and, by implication, a condemnation of an iniquitous system. It prompts the question whether Newcastle is very different today under the present draconian government
Youth Unemployment is published in hardback by Bluecoat Press, price £25. A less expensive paperback version will be available early next year.
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