Born in Myllykoski, Finland, in 1948, Sirkka began taking photographs at the age of twelve, inspired by her aunt Oili, who was a skilful amateur photographer. She developed a keen interest in documentary photography and later decided to study film making in the UK, enrolling at the Regent Street Polytechnic film school in London. Whilst there, she met up with Murray Martin and a number of other fellow students, with whom she formed the Amber Collective. In 1969, the collective moved to Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England, with a commitment to documenting working class communities, in film and in photographs, and in 1977 established the Side Photographic Gallery. Since then, Sirkka has played an active part in most aspects of Amber/Side’s work. Her central involvement has been in the production of a number of long term photographic projects, resulting in exhibitions, books and documentary films.
Sirkka is perhaps best known for her book ‘Byker’ of 1983, a seminal portrait of the terraced Newcastle community, eventually bulldozed to make way for the Byker Wall and the wholesale redevelopment of the area. She began her project in 1969, when she moved to the North East of England and lived in Byker for seven years, until her own house was demolished. Thereafter she continued to photograph and to collect testimonies from the residents for a further five years.
‘Step by Step’ was a similarly long-term commitment, in which she explored the dreams and realities of a group of mothers and daughters at a North Shields dancing school – part of a broader engagement with North Shields undertaken by the whole Amber collective.
‘Writing in the Sand’ came out of Sirkka’s twenty five year photographic engagement with the vibrant life of the beaches of the North East. Storm days excepted she begins her mornings with a swim in the sea, and although her new work, ‘The Coal Coast’, represents for her the radical move to colour, this series of powerful images capturing the ‘terrible beauty’ of the Durham coastline presents a natural extension of her concerns. This exhibition and book form part of ‘Coalfield Stories’, Side Gallery’s documentation of post industrial experience in County Durham.
EXHIBITIONS (all available online - see the illustrated links below):
Step by Step
My Finnish Roots
Writing In The Sand
The Coal Coast
Byker, Jonathan Cape, 1983; Bloodaxe Books, 1985; Bloodaxe/Amberside, 1988
Step By Step, Bloodaxe Books/Amberside, 1989
Writing in the Sand, Dewi Lewis/Amberside, 2001 (also: Swedish & French editions, Schultz Forlag/Amberside; Finnish edition, Kustantamo Pohjoinen/Amberside)
The Coal Coast, Amberside, 2003
Byker Revisited, Northumbria Press, 2009
AMBER FILMS LINKED TO SIRKKA'S PHOTOGRAPHY:
Keeping Time (1983 - linked to Step by Step)
The Writing in the Sand (1991)
Letters to Katja (1994 - linked to My Finnish Roots)
Today I'm With You (2010 - linked to Byker Revisited)
The life of beaches in the North East of England, captured between 1973 and 1998.
Family portraits and home interiors from North Shields, 1979/80, developed as part of the broader photographic project, North Tyneside.
The seminal documentation of a threatened and eventually demolished working class, terraced house community in Newcastle upon Tyne’s East End by a founder member of Amber, who lived there when the collective first moved to the North East of England in 1969. Book available. See also Amber's film, Byker.
Extensive documentation of a dancing school in North Shields, in the North East of England, developed in the mid-1980s, exploring the relationships between mothers and daughters and between school and community.
A documentation from 1979 of the area of Newcastle where the collective is based, then under threat of redevelopment. The exhibition and publication (full text included here) featured photographs by Sirkka and, fellow Amber member at the time, Graham Smith. The work is linked to Amber's film Quayside.
The travelling fair that visits Newcastle upon Tyne’s Town Moor every year, the largest in Europe, documented in the 1970s. Fairground art was also documented for the Lambton Visual Aids slide collection.
A project in which the photographer explored her return to Finland in 1992 after 23 years in the North East of England, linked to the Amber documentary feature, Letters to Katja.
Photographs of the coal industry and shipbuilding on the River Tyne, 1970s. They are linked to Amber's films High Row, Launch and Bowes Line and Amber's The River Project, which brought together photography, film, visual art and writing.
Landscapes exploring the legacy of the mining industry in the cliffs and along the beaches of County Durham, 1998 to 2002, part of Side Gallery’s ‘Coalfield Stories’ programme of production, exploring post-industrial experience.
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;