Karen on Overturned Chair by Tish Murtha

Kickstarter for documentary celebrating Tish Murtha

Photographer Tish Murtha challenged and documented the inequality faced by working-class communities with her images.

At the same time, her photographs celebrated what it means to be working class.

Now, Tish’s daughter, Ella Murtha, is working with director Paul Sng and producer Jen Corcoran on TISH, a new feature-length documentary celebrating her work.

Ella has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the documentary.

Since launching on March 1, the campaign has raised more than £20,000 of its £30,000 target.

If it is successful, production will begin in April.

Ella, who also runs the Tish Murtha Archive, says: “We are living through incredibly divided times, where working-class people have been manipulated, just like the class warfare that my mam warned about in the essay for her exhibition Youth Unemployment.

“There has never been a more relevant time to go back, meet the people from these photos and really try to understand how their generation were exploited and devalued.”

Glenn and Paul on the Washing Line by Tish Murtha
Glenn And Paul On The Washing Line, Youth Unemployment – Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, all rights reserved

An honest celebration of Tish Murtha

Unlike many social documentary photographers, Tish was from the same streets as the people she photographed.

This lends a poignant intimacy to her stark yet tender black and white images.

However, despite early acclaim, she struggled to make a living from photography. Tish lived in poverty until her death at the age of 56.

While her brilliant eye, ethics and empathy are present in her photographs, little is known of the artist herself.

In this new feature documentary, Ella sets out to uncover why her mother’s work wasn’t fully appreciated in her lifetime by exploring unseen archive materials, personal notebooks, correspondence and interviewing the people who knew her.

“I want to make an honest, celebratory film about my mam and her life, and hope it will be moving, tender and also uplifting,” says Ella.

“I’d like people to know who Tish Murtha was and for her character to jump out of the screen the way her photos do.”

Ella describes her mother as ‘an incredible woman’ – determined, kind and fierce but also ‘incredibly sensitive.

“She had to learn to be tough from a very young age and fight for everything.

“She was extremely principled, always stood up to bullies and was frequently labelled ‘difficult’.

“But Tish was a beautiful, simple soul and I wouldn’t want to come from any other womb.”

Portrait of Kenilworth Road Kids, Cruddas Park. Part of the Juvenile Jazz Bands series.
Kenilworth Road Kids, Cruddas Park, Juvenile Jazz Bands (1979) – Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, all rights reserved

‘It is her empathy and politics I connect with most’

Director Paul Sng has developed a critical reputation as a documentary filmmaker exploring social issues.

Driven by methodical research and creative storytelling, Paul champions a collaborative approach.

Paul says: “More than any other photographer, Tish Murtha has influenced and inspired my practice as a documentary filmmaker.

“Her vision and framing are indisputably brilliant, but it’s her empathy for her subjects and her politics I connect with most.

“Tish understood that the poor and vulnerable don’t simply ‘fall through the cracks’ of society; rather they are denied the tools to navigate and escape structural inequality, caught in a system that devalues them and seeks to blame other factors for their so-called failures.

“Tish’s commitment to challenging this speaks to my own need to question the imbalance in our society and demand answers.

“It’s an honour to be working with Ella and Jen to bring Tish’s story to the screen.

“As the child of a single working-class mum who made great sacrifices to raise me, I understand the ‘us against the world’ bond Ella shared with Tish and the debt of gratitude towards a parent who never hesitated to put their only child’s wellbeing before their own hopes and dreams.”

Kids Jumping On To Mattresses by Tish Murtha
Kids Jumping On To Mattresses, Youth Unemployment (1981) – Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, all rights reserved.

An intimate examination of motives and political views

TISH will be produced by Jen Corcoran through her Teesside-based company Freya Films and Paul Sng’s Velvet Joy Productions.

Jen established Freya in 2019 with a focus on contemporary, empathetic storytelling, international collaboration and new narratives from the Northeast.

Formerly head of film at My Accomplice, Jen’s current projects include Hide and Seek [Nascondino], a Naples-set documentary feature with BFI/Doc Society.

The film is a journey of exploration for Ella.

It is a chance to elevate and preserve Tish’s legacy and tell the story of an artist and a woman outside of the mother that existed for her.

It will present an intimate exploration of Tish’s motivations and political views, the challenges she faced as a young working-class woman from the Northeast, and the value society places on working-class communities and artists.

Richard And Louise portrait from the Elswick Kids services by Tish Murtha
Richard And Louise, Elswick Kids (1978) – Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, all rights reserved.

Kickstarter campaign details

For those who wish to contribute towards making the film, the Kickstarter campaign offers a range of rewards.

These include tote bags, premiere tickets and limited edition Tish Murtha photo prints and illustrations.

Full details are available at kickstarter.com/projects/invisiblebritain/tish.

Main image: Karen On Overturned Chair, Youth Unemployment (1981) – Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, all rights reserved.

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