Tish Murtha was a working-class photographer from the north-east of England who documented inequality in Britain, primarily during the 1970s and 1980s. For Tish, taking photographs was an act of rebellion. She used her camera as a weapon to attack Margaret Thatcher and the Tory government, whose free-market economics and de-industrialisation policies decimated working-class areas across the country.
In Tish’s photographs we see the fun, mischief and ingenuity of working-class communities. She had a great empathy for the people she made images with and wanted to show the world their value. As well as being a brilliant photographer, Tish was also an incisive political writer.
In the essay that accompanies her Youth Unemployment series, she interrogates the detrimental impact of Thatcherism on the community where she grew up – lacerating Tory policy as “vandalism on a grand scale”.
Deeply concerned about the high levels of youth unemployment at the time, Tish warned that this abandonment of young people would have dire consequences and that the future would be bleak for younger generations facing “a state of premature redundancy the minute they pass through the school gates for the last time”. Her words proved to be prescient.
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Within the arts world, Tish was an outsider. She couldn’t be pigeon-holed into middle-class cliches about the working-class struggle. She did things the way she thought was correct, rather than compromise the integrity of her work to achieve success.