Tish Murtha – Photographer

In 1976, aged 20, Tish left home to study at the famous School of Documentary Photography at The University of Wales, Newport under the guidance of Magnum member David Hurn.

“I can give you the example of Tish Murtha, who was a wonderful photographer from the north. I asked her what she wanted to photograph and she said, ‘I want to take pictures of policemen kicking children,’ and I said, “You’re in.” It was the shortest interview I had ever done because I knew exactly what she meant and I knew she was going to be a social photographer.”
David Hurn

My wife Tamara showed me an article in the New York Times’ ‘Lens’ series. One of the photographers in the article was Trish Murtha, who died in 2013 aged 57. I looked at the photos and googled for more.

These are great photographs. Put ‘Tish Murtha photos’ into Google and look at them.

There’s an exhibition of Tish Murtha’s photographs just starting now at the Photographer’s Gallery in London. It’s running until the middle of October and I hope to go see it.

Her daughter Ella is keeping her mother’s work alive on the web at the website TishMurtha. There’s a lot of stuff about her background and she mentions that her mother’s essay ‘Youth Unemployment in the West End of Newcastle’ written to accompany an exhibition [in Bridport, I think], was read out in the House of Commons.

I wonder who read it out, which Government was in power at the time, and with what effect.

I keep being reminded of prime minister Harold McMillan’s 1957 statement that ‘…most of our people have never had it so good’.

In some ways it seems to be right – no more outside lavatories, no more bin men coming down the road.

No more coal man emptying sacks down the chutes while housewives rushed to take in their whites on the line so that the soot didn’t cover them.

All that has been swept aside, and we can sit and view the world from Starbucks luxury.

All that has been swept aside except that the level of unsecured household debt in the UK is through the roof.

As my dad might have said, it’s all fur coat and no knickers.

Not to draw you away from her photos, but while you are at it, you could google for ‘Chris Killip photos’, also of poverty and the wasteland in Britain.


  1. Joan E. Miller says:

    Interesting body of work. I love that gritty black and white photojournalism. I did some of that in my twenties, and I miss it. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Do you still have a film camera?


  2. reb says:

    I googled and looked. She was a storyteller with pictures.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.