‘Electric’ experience printing Tish Murtha’s work
Gordon MacDonald and Ella Murtha discuss the ‘electric’ process of printing Tish Murtha’s negatives for a new exhibition at the Tate.
by Sheena Campbell
Tish Murtha’s work is currently on show at the Tate as part of After Industry: Communities In Northern England 1960s–1980s.
Her treasured negatives were printed by Gordon MacDonald. Gordon has been providing a black and white hand printing service in partnership with Spectrum Photographic since last summer.
Here, he and Ella Murtha discuss the emotional and rewarding process of printing Murtha’s work.
Tish Murtha – ‘a unique and powerful view’
“I met Tish Murtha early in 2008 in Newcastle to talk about publishing a selection of her work in Photoworks magazine,” says Gordon.
“We talked after looking through the works and discussing the edit and got on very well.
“We had written a few times afterwards and I was very keen to help her to get her unique and powerful view of working class life in 70s and 80s Britain more widely seen.
“Since first seeing the photographs, I felt this was the most accurate, unsentimental but gentle and engaged work, reflecting my own experience of childhood I could imagine.
“I knew there was something different in them and, after meeting Tish, understood that it was her connection to the subjects as a local, a friend and often a relative.
“She was not an outside observer, but a part of the lives she was portraying.
“It was in 2013, shortly after Tish’s death, that Ella contacted me to talk about a letter I had written to Tish that she had found in her mother’s flat.
“We started to talk regularly about the archive Tish had left and how Ella could best celebrate and promote her mum’s legacy.”
‘An emotional and surprising request’
“When Tate Britain wanted to include some of my mam’s work in their After Industry display, I knew Gordon MacDonald had recently set up his dark room and was working with Spectrum to offer black and white hand prints so I asked him if he would like to make them for me,” said Ella.
“Gordon has been there throughout my journey with my mam’s archive.
“I trust him and know that he truly understands the work.”
Gordon said: “It was a very emotional and surprising request, which took me a while to process – excuse the pun.
“While I was making the prints, Ella told me that I was probably the first person to put the negatives into an enlarger since her mum printed them.
“The feeling of being part of a great work was with me throughout the printing and seeing the works hung at the Tate.
“I have printed thousands of photographs for photographers and artists over the years but this felt electric and hugely important.”
A selection of Tish Murtha’s work is currently on show as part of After Industry: Communities In Northern England 1960s–1980s.
The exhibition is on until October 30.
Ella said: “I am absolutely thrilled with the prints. They are beautiful and made with such skill, care, and love.
“The whole process was great. My mam’s negatives are so precious to me and they were in safe hands with Gordon.
When we went to Tate Britain together to look at them, it was a very proud moment. Thank you, Gordon and Spectrum.”