Friday, 27 July 2012

Exhibition tribute to photographer Martin Jenkinson kicks off this weekend

I was fortunate enough to be able to work with Sheffield photographer Martin Jenkinson over the last few years. As a latecomer to the world of journalism and writing I have learnt a great deal from Martin, whose company and dry sense of humour I always enjoyed, and I was very sad when he died recently. 
Now a tribute exhibition of his work will be on display at a café in Sheffield over the next month. I’d urge people to get along and see it. 

A former steelworker, who used his redundancy pay to turn his hobby into an occupation, Martin, aged 64, died of cancer in June. This was just days after agreeing to a first showing of his striking images that capture some of the most dramatic scenes of industrial and community action in the northern region since the early 80s.

Jenkinson also documented Yorkshire’s changing industrial landscape and leaves behind a lasting legacy of photographic work of the lives of ordinary people at work.

Commissioned by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) during the year-long strike against pit closures in 1984-85, Martin captured the arrest outside Orgreave cokeworks, near Sheffield on 30 May 1984, of NUM president Arthur Scargill. The arrest came a day after police had used riot gear against pickets for the first time since the strike had started in March. Fifteen years later a portrait he took of Scargill was chosen for the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Faces of the Century.

Orgreave turned coal into coke for use in steel production and the NUM were determined to hit British Steel’s output. After train drivers and seamen refused to supply Orgreave, the police deployed huge numbers to ensure lorry drivers did so. I was present (although certainly not at the front line as the moment I arrived I knew it was a set-up and until then most Miners did not realise just how brutal the police can be) at Orgreave on 18 June 1984, a day when Martin photographed miner Geordie Brearley wearing a toy policeman’s helmet as he inspected a battalion of police officers lined up against pickets.

Following the end of Britain’s bitterest ever dispute, Martin subsequently worked for several unions and many community organisations. This helped provide unique access to many workplaces in industries such as coal, steel, wool and cutlery that are no longer.  Last year Martin and I worked on a Big Issue article in which we revisited some of these locations in order to reveal significant changes in Yorkshire’s industrial landscape over the last three decades. We had discussed turning the idea into a book and it may still come about in the future. 

Fellow photographer and long-term friend, Mark Harvey: “Martin was a private, humble man. In photography there is a lot of bravado, as we have power over our subjects. Martin wasn’t like that, he worked under the radar and sometimes people would see him as bumbling around. What he was doing was being observant and his visual literacy was very good. He was against exploiting people he captured on film. All these qualities and skills helped relax people and get a good photograph.”

According to Mark it was his friend’s reluctance to exploit people that prevented him giving the go-ahead for an exhibition until just two days before he died.

“It’s being held in a café where a group of photographers have met for many years. Martin’s friends and family have selected the photographs and whilst visitors will recognise some of them, there are also lots never shown before. They are good quality photographs that document the history of our times,” said Mark Harvey.

Martin Jenkinson – a photographic tribute, will open on Saturday 28 July at the Harland Café, 72 John Street, Sharrow, Sheffield S2 4QU. 0114 273 8553 for details.
Monday – Friday 8am – 5pm, Saturday 9am – 5pm, Sunday 10am – 4pm. Runs to August 29. 

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