Tish Murtha

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Tish Murtha
Patricia Anne Murtha

(1956-03-14)14 March 1956
Died13 March 2013(2013-03-13) (aged 56)
EducationThe University of Wales, Newport
Known forPhotography
StyleSocial documentary photography

Patricia Anne "Tish" Murtha (14 March 1956 – 13 March 2013) was a British social documentary photographer best known for documenting marginalised communities,[1] social realism[2] and working class life[3] in Newcastle upon Tyne and the North East of England.

The posthumously published books of her work are Youth Unemployment (2017), Elswick Kids (2018) and Juvenile Jazz Bands (2020).

Background and education[edit]

Murtha was born on 14 March 1956 in South Shields,[4] North East, England. In 1976, aged 20, she left home to study at the School of Documentary Photography at The University of Wales, Newport, set up by Magnum Photos member David Hurn. After graduating in 1978, she returned to Newcastle and set out to document “marginalized communities from the inside” - unlike other photographers who came to document social poverty in the region at the time Murtha didn’t just document it, she actually lived it,[5] as the third of ten children of Irish descent,[6] brought up in a council house in Elswick in Newcastle, she captured the lives of her friends, family and the community around her while she was on a job scheme for the unemployed.[7][8]


This led to the then controversial exhibitions Juvenile Jazz Bands (1979) and Youth Unemployment (1981),[7][9] which was raised as a subject of debate in the House of Commons.[10] Around this time Murtha was also commissioned to document the campaign Save Scotswood Works (1979)[7] and provided photographs for the THAC (Tyneside Housing Aid Centre) publications Do you know what this is doing to my little girl? - Home Truths in the Year Of The Child (1979) and Burying The Problem (1980), highlighting social poverty on Tyneside.

In 1982, Murtha moved to London, where she worked on London By Night (1983) along with Bill Brandt, Brian Griffin and Peter Marlow. The group exhibition documenting Soho and the commercial sex industry, was exhibited in The Photographers’ Gallery, London.[11] Murtha lived in the capital for five years, working on commission for Edward Arnold Publishers. She also photographed emerging celebrities Julian Clary and Philip Herbert and took the first headshots of a young Declan Donnelly upon her return to the north east in 1987.

Between 2008 and 2012, Murtha's work was selected for three Arts Council / British Council Collection exhibitions; No Such Thing as Society: Photography in Britain 1967–1987: From the Arts Council Collection and the British Council Collection[12][13][14] showcased "a radically new picture of these two turbulent decades"; Unpopular Culture – Grayson Perry Selects from the Arts Council Collection[15] examined 70 works by 50 artists Perry describes as belonging to a period "before British art became fashionable"[16]; Observadores - Fotógrafos Da Cena Britânica Desde 1930 Até Hoje (Observers: British Photography and the British Scene) was "the first exhibition ever staged in Brazil to chart a course through British photography in modern times."[17]

In 2011, the group exhibition Paul Graham, Tish Murtha and Markéta Luskačová formed part of Look 11: Liverpool International Photography Festival.[18][19]

Posthumously, Murtha's work was included in the group exhibitions True/Grit - A Celebration of Northern Realism (2013)[7], For Ever Amber (2015).[20][21][22][23][24][25] and Childhoods - 1977 to 2016 (2016).[26]

Death and legacy[edit]

On 13 March 2013—the day before what would have been her 57th birthday—Murtha died after suffering a sudden brain aneurysm.[5]

She is survived by her daughter, Ella, and grandson, Dexter.

Paul Reas and Lulu Preece at University of South Wales began scanning the Tish Murtha archive,[27] which contains thousands of previously unseen images. Her daughter Ella published the book Youth Unemployment through Bluecoat Press in November 2017 after a successful Kickstarter campaign.[28]


Publications by Murtha[edit]

  • Youth Unemployment. Liverpool: Bluecoat, 2017. ISBN 978-1908457394. Hardback first edition.
  • Elswick Kids. Liverpool: Bluecoat, 2018. ISBN 978-1908457509. Hardback.
  • Juvenile Jazz Bands. Liverpool: Bluecoat, 2020. ISBN 978-1908457561. Hardback.

Zines by Murtha[edit]

  • Newport Tip 1978. Southport: Café Royal, 2018. Edition of 500 copies.[n 1]
  • Newport Doc Photo Class of '78. Southport: Café Royal, 2018. Four titles in a box, Newport Tip 1978, Army Snow Clearance Bridgend 1978, The Queens Jubilee Newport 1977, and Newport Doc Photo Class of '78. Edition of 150 copies.[n 2]
  • The Queen's Silver Jubilee Newport 1977. Southport: Café Royal, 2018.[n 3]

Books and exhibition catalogues with contributions by Murtha[edit]

  • The book of the year. London: Ink Links, 1980. ISSN 0144-5367.
  • No Such Thing as Society: Photography in Britain 1967–1987: From the Arts Council Collection and the British Council Collection. London: Hayward, 2007. By David Alan Mellor. ISBN 978-1-85332-265-5.[12]
  • Unpopular Culture: Grayson Perry Selects from the Arts Council Collection. London: Hayward, 2008. By Grayson Perry and Blake Morrison. ISBN 978-1853322679[15]
  • Observadores: Fotografos da Cena Britanica de 1930 Ate Hoje. São Paulo: SESI, 2012. ISBN 978-8582050576[17]
  • For Ever Amber: Stories From A Film & Photography Collection. Leeds: Pressision, 2015.
  • London Nights. London: Hoxton Mini Press. 2018. ISBN 978-1-910566-34-3. With essays by Anna Sparham and poetry by Inua Ellams. Published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum of London.

Other publications[edit]

  • Do you know what this is doing to my little girl? - Home Truths in the Year Of The Child - a THAC Report. Tyneside Free Press Workshop, 1979. ISBN 9780901242525.
  • Burying The Problem - a THAC Report. Tyneside Free Press Workshop, 1980.
  • Photoworks. Issue 10. Brighton: Photoworks, 2008. ISBN 978-1903796276.[n 4]
  • History of Photography, Volume 33, Number 4: Crushing The Social. Routledge, November 2009. ISSN 0308-7298.
  • Wombat: Portfolio No. 24: Tish Murtha. Paris: Wombat, September 2016.[n 5]
  • Loose Associations. Volume 4, Number 2: Various. London: The Photographers' Gallery, 2018. ISBN 9786000028091. Includes work by Murtha and Alex Prager.[n 6]


Murtha's work is held in the following public collections:


Solo exhibitions[edit]

Group exhibitions[edit]


  1. ^ Café Royal's page about Newport Tip 1978 is here.
  2. ^ Café Royal's page about Newport Doc Photo Class of '78 is here.
  3. ^ Café Royal's page about The Queen's Silver Jubilee Newport 1977 is here.
  4. ^ Photoworks' page for Issue 10 is here.
  5. ^ Wombat's page about Portfolio No. 24 is here
  6. ^ The Photographers' Gallery page about Volume 4, Number 2 is here


  1. ^ Falconer, Karen. "For ever Amber: Britain's answer to Magnum present life under a lens for marginalized communities of the North-East". The Independent. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  2. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (11 May 2008). "Before all the shouting started". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  3. ^ Savage, Jon (23 March 2008). "Tories, turmoil and tank tops". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  4. ^ Tish Murtha: Works 1976-1991, The Photographers Gallery, London, 2018
  5. ^ a b Murtha, Glenn (12 June 2015). "That's me in the picture: Glenn Murtha, 17, leaping out of a window in Newcastle, 1979". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  6. ^ Mulhall, James. "Powerful images of Irish in Britain to go on display in Newcastle". The Irish Post. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "Side Gallery - True/Grit Exhibition Information / Tish Murtha". Scribd. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  8. ^ "Side Gallery & The AmberSide Collection". www.amber-online.com. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  9. ^ Mellor, David Alan. "Tish Murtha: Youth Unemployment in the West End of Newcastle". Photoworks via EBSCO HOST Connection. Archived from the original on 19 April 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  10. ^ "Part of the debate in the House of Commons, 18th February 1981". www.theyworkforyou.com. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  11. ^ a b "The Photographers' Gallery Exhibition History, 1971 - Present" (PDF). The Photographers' Gallery. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 March 2016.
  12. ^ a b "No Such Thing As Society: Photography In Britain 1968-1987". Southbank Centre. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  13. ^ a b c "No Such Thing As Society: Photography In Britain 1968-1987". British Council. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  14. ^ a b "No Such Thing as Society - FOTO8". FOTO8. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  15. ^ a b "Unpopular Culture - Grayson Perry Selects from the Arts Council Collection". Southbank Centre. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  16. ^ a b c "Unpopular Culture - Grayson Perry Selects from the Arts Council Collection". Southbank Centre. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  17. ^ a b c d "Observadores - Fotógrafos Da Cena Britânica Desde 1930 Até Hoje". British Council. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  18. ^ a b "Look 11 Liverpool International Photography Festival First Year Guide" (PDF). Look.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ a b "Look 11: International Photography Festival". www.liverpoolbaltictriangle.co.uk. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  20. ^ a b "For Ever Amber: documenting the everyday lives of people in England's North-East". UK National Commission for UNESCO. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  21. ^ Cripps, Charlotte. "Social documentary: the working class and marginalised communities of The North East". The Independent. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  22. ^ a b "Amber exhibition captures 50 years of life in North East". BBC News. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  23. ^ a b "The beauty of the everyday". BBC News. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  24. ^ a b "A culture preserved in Amber". British Film Institute. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  25. ^ a b Hodgson, Barbara. "Newcastle's Amber Collective unveils its first ever major retrospective of photographs". Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  26. ^ a b Whetstone, David (23 September 2016). "Side Gallery, a unique window on the world, is reopening after a £1.1m refurbishment". Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 23 September 2016.
  27. ^ "Kickstarter Campaign". Ella Murtha. Accessed 24 April 2017
  28. ^ "Kickstarter Campaign"
  29. ^ "Murtha, Tish - Arts Council Collection". Arts Council. Archived from the original on 22 September 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  30. ^ "About the AmberSide Collection". Amber Online. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  31. ^ "Tish Murtha - Person - National Portrait Gallery". www.npg.org.uk. Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  32. ^ "Tish Murtha comes to The Photographers' Gallery". British Journal of Photography. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  33. ^ Moroz, Sarah (27 June 2018). "This Working Class Photographer Documented Her Community in Industrial England". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  34. ^ AnOther (14 June 2018). "The Forgotten Photographer Who Captured Britain's Social Crises". AnOther. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  35. ^ "Tish Murtha/Alex Prager review – a Hitchcockian shock of grit and glitz". The Guardian. 14 June 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  36. ^ "Snapshot: 'Tish Murtha: Works 1976-1991'". www.ft.com. 1 June 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  37. ^ "England 78-81". www.fkwbh.de. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  38. ^ "6 photos to see at the new 'London Nights' exhibition". Time Out London. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  39. ^ "London Nights: exploring the capital after dark – in pictures". The Guardian. 23 April 2018. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 10 May 2018 – via www.theguardian.com.
  40. ^ "Subscribe to read". Financial Times. Retrieved 14 June 2018. Cite uses generic title (help)
  41. ^ Whetstone, David (11 May 2018). "What if they'd built a deck over the Tyne? One question raised by Baltic's Idea of North exhibition". nechronicle. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  42. ^ "Documentary photography stars in the Distinctly show". British Journal of Photography. 15 August 2018. Retrieved 17 June 2019.

External links[edit]