Ella Murtha, through her mother’s soul, tells us an incredible story

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Tish was born in South Shields on 14th March 1956, but later moved to Elswick in the West End of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Tish left school at 16 and had a variety of jobs, from selling hot dogs to working in a petrol station. Photography wasn’t part of her life until she took a photography night course at Bath Lane, Newcastle, where her lecturer convinced her to apply to the Documentary Photography course in Newport, newly set up by David Hurn and the only one of it’s kind at the time. The same lecturer also helped her to get an education grant which enabled her to go.

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.

Tish’s work was often concerned with the documentation of marginalised communities from the inside. She invested her time building relationships of trust, which allowed her access to different parts of the communities that she photographed. Her approach was informal, generating an understanding of what she was doing by giving copies of her photos to the people in them. The young people she photographed as part of the Youth Unemployment and Juvenile Jazz Band exhibitions showed how tenacious, resourceful, clever and resilient they were (and had to be) – Tish was always fiercely protective of them.

Tish sadly died on March 13th 2013, the day before what would have been her 57th birthday, after suffering a brain aneurysm.Now is the beloved daughter of Tish, Ella, in charge of keeping alive the memory of his mother through his images and projects.


About ‘Youth Unemployment’:

Ella Murtha’s life changed forever in March 2013 when her mother, documentary photographer Tish Murtha, died suddenly from a brain aneurysm.

Suffering from the shock of losing her mother so suddenly, she began looking through the archive of negatives, prints and diaries that she inherited, and found it very therapeutic and helpful to deal with her grief.

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After a very successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year , Ella is publishing the first book of her mother’s work  –  ‘Youth Unemployment’ by Tish Murtha with Bluecoat Press in late 2017.

The pictures and text in the original Youth Unemployment exhibition in 1981, were a direct response to the rising rate of unemployment among the area’s youth, part of a national trend that had reached catastrophic proportions in the Thatcher era. They were inspired by love and also anger at the devastating situation.

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The photos document the many facets of the problem, the alienation of a generation made redundant by economic forces beyond their control and largely beyond their  understanding. The brutality of living on subsistence benefits, the endless, aimless days, the inability to see any acceptable future and the deep sense of frustration and powerlessness.

Tish worried that the pressures of unemployment were diverse and would always stay with these young people. Ella speaks with a palpable love for her mother’s work and personality, in a way that makes you feel she was a warm-hearted and solicitous friend you wish you’d met.

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The hardback limited edition book ‘Youth Unemployment’ is due to be published in November 2017 by Bluecoat Press. It includes a foreword by Magnum photographer David Hurn, the essay ‘Voices from the archive’ by Professor Val Williams, and the original essay Tish wrote to accompany her exhibition titled ‘ Youth Unemployment in the west end of Newcastle’ along with 70 images from Youth Unemployment.

Youth Unemployment In Elswick

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