Street Theatre

Newcastle Quayside

Graham Smith

Newcastle Quayside

Vintage Gelatin Silver Print

34 x 26.4 cms (13.36 x 10.38 ins)

1978

HC 10487

Signed and dated on the reverse and inscribed Newcastle Quayside

In the photographer's frame.


Newcastle Quayside typifies Smith's work of the later 1970s when he was working with the film and photography collective Amber Associates. Similar works were included in the important Arts Council exhibition Three Perspecives on Photography (1979). In the accompanying catalogue Smith wrote of his aims:

"The keystone of our production is 'commitment' to a chosen region (with an emphasis on the working class). The style is unashamedly documentary in its basis. We maintain that documentary can be extremely personal and feel it unfortunate that the word has become synonymous with factual journalism. We see ourselves as artists working within that tradition which might be described as a 'creative interpretation of reality'."
This 'creative interpretation of reality' is especially evident in Graham Smith's Newcastle Quayside. The picture has a film noire quality that allies it both to American cinema and to Harry Callahan's dramtisation of the streets of Chicago. The aesthetic elevates the area to bestow on it an air of mystery and drama, an appropriate quality since the photograph was one of a group of works intended to celebrate the Quayside area of Newcastle in order to prevent its demolition.

This photograph was included in a 1979 exhibition entitled Quayside at the Side Gallery in Newcastle, the first photography gallery in Britain. Staged by the Amber Collective, the exhibition documented the Quayside area of Newcastle, where the collective was based, and included two photographers: Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen and Graham Smith. A film about the area, based on these photographs, was also made at the same time. Their aim was to document this historic but neglected area with a view to seeking its preservation.

The booklet, Quayside, produced by Amber Associates to coincide with the exhibition, explained the ideas behind the project:

"The idea to do a project on the Newcastle Quayside emerged last year during group discussions as to where we would direct our energies in 1979. Having worked (and some of us lived) on the Quayside for the past ten years the idea of 'looking' at the Quayside, its immediate past and future, was readily accepted. It was agreed that we would approach the project collectively.

As with all work, we went through a process of constant re-assessment but in essence, the motivation was that the Quayside was a special area which had attracted us because of its unique atmosphere. Even in the time we have worked there, there have been real changes. The business life has seen a steady decline, while the night life (clubs and restaurants) has flourished.

Slowly we rejected the idea of a broad survey and felt that we must pursue those elements we were personally attracted by. Like any group of individuals who find the past attractive, we live under the shadows of the planners' ambitions. Consequently we were both depressed and motivated by the discovery that the Council wanted to demolish Prince's Buildings (in order to make a car park). They had already demolished a fine Victorian building to provide suitable access for vehicles, and thus we were fired to define what we might hopefully achieve by the Quayside work.

Our conclusions were that if we managed to generate interest in the area, and stimulate much needed debates about its future then this would represent some success. The very least we might achieve would be to document the Quayside at a specific point in time so that future generations might have some concept of the Quayside in the late 1970s.

Inevitably, many of the people we have spoken to say that we are 'too late'; that the old Quayside has gone and that we should have done it 20 years ago. We realise that the changes have been radical over the past decade; traditional industries have declined and with them the whole commercial focus of the Quayside.

What is worrying is that such a distinctive part of the city has so little protection. While outwardly the City Council claims to be committed to preserving the Quayside, a close look at specific elements of council policy suggests otherwise, in addition to Prince's House being designated as a car park, other Council owned property is being allowed to lapse into a state of decay which will almost inevitably mean it will come under the demolition hammer. It is still hoped to extend the All Saints office complex, and that is what makes the demolition of Prince's House a real possibility.

We would contend that to demolish such a building with its dramatic relationship to the Tyne Bridge, would not only spoil the 'visual feel' of the area, but weaken the argument against further demolition.

Undoubtedly, the post war decision to run down the coal industry had disastrous consequences for the Quayside business community, and the gradual decline in world shipping has put the final nail in the coffin. There has been a general feeling of criticism of the City Council's parking meter system which has driven out some businesses while discouraging would be clients from moving into the area.

In spite of the fact that the life has been slowly drained from the Quayside we have been surprised by the feelings of loyalty the area generates. People who work there often do so because they like it, and the fact that 'a Quaysider' is seen as a description for someone who works or lives in the area, tells that it is a special environment.

Our greatest surprise was to find out just how much life there was left in the complex of buildings beneath the Tyne Bridge. If the City Council had enough vision to adapt some of its Quayside premises into more flexible uses and with secure leases, then it is conceivable that a new generation of 'Quaysider' might emerge."

The same year that Smith produced this work the Venice Biennale was held and for the first time the American Pavilion gave a solo show to a photographer, Harry Callahan. Amongst his most famous works are his street scenes, such as those taken in the mid and late 1950s on the streets of Chicago and Aix en Provence, in which strong contrasts between black and white obliterate midtowns creating stark images that turn the street into a theatre set. Newcastle Quayside appears to take inspiration from Callahan's Modernsim.



British Photography / The Hyman Collection

Graham Smith

Newcastle Quayside

Vintage Gelatin Silver Print

34 x 26.4 cms (13.36 x 10.38 ins)

1978

HC 10487

All images © the artist or copyright holder | Website © The Hyman Collection 2021