Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen (Photographer)
40 years ago Finnish photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen came to Byker as a founder member of Amber. Her photographs from the working class Tyneside terraced streets became an exhibition and book; wove their way through Amber's film Byker (1983). Studied and feted across the world, the work was a celebration of the community that was demolished to make way for architect Ralph Erskine's Byker Wall Estate.
Sirkka returned in 2003, negotiating an individual journey through the new Byker, building a portrait of of the estate, opening up on the richly complex, often transient and fragile nature of contemporary urban lives and the architecture that is part of the story.
Some individuals had been photographed in the original project. She found a few of the remaining extended families of the traditional working class for whom the estate was designed. There are the self-defined individuals who seem to flourish in a street plan outsiders find impossible to navigate. Perhaps because she had been a stranger in the original Byker, Sirkka found herself drawn to the refugees, housed in the hard-to-let properties at the bottom of the estate, where the limitations of its planned lifespan have become most visible.
Over a six year period, the portraits were developed closely with over 100 individuals and families, a sharing of heritage and experience in a fractured community.