Every generation likes to think they're more original than the previous. The music, the clothes, the sex – we think we discovered it all first. But it's undeniable that every generation is unique, as a new exhibition at Newcastle's Side Gallery proves. Featuring photographs of young people in the UK taken over 40 years, we see what it means to be a young person in these fast-changing times.
Youth Rising in the UK 1981 – 2021 brings together the work of nine photographers with rarely seen works by Chris Killip and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen shown alongside recent work by Alys Tomlinson, Maryam Wahid, Sadie Catt, Tom Sussex, Christopher Nunn, Paul Knox and Vanessa Winship.
In the striking images, we see Finnish photographer, Konttinen's 'Writing in the Sand' series, which captures life on the beaches of the North East. Focusing in particular on Whitley Bay, it documents both the exuberance and introspection of youth on the vast expanse of sand. There's also Killip's early work 'Skinningrove', which depicts the lives of young fishermen in a North Yorkshire coastal village in the early 1980s.
More recent work by Vanessa Winship and Alys Tomlinson captures two key stages of graduation – from child to teen and teen to adult. Winship's photographs, taken in Cumbria this year, depict Year 5 children in uniform, progressing to their final year at primary school. Winship invited the children to write their visions for the future and these texts sit alongside the portraits.
Meanwhile, Tomlinson's portraits of school-leavers in their prom outfit in domestic settings were photographed in June 2020 represents 'The Lost Summer' for those unable to sit school exams nor formally mark the significant step of leaving school.
The exhibition also includes Tom Sussex's photographs from the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 in London and accompanying portraits of the young people campaigning for change.
"Photographs are a critical platform through which young people can be seen, heard and remembered," says the show's curator, Liz Hingley. "The photographers in the exhibition tenderly document the awkward, surprising and passionate period of maturation into adulthood, that resonates across generations but is at once unique to each."
Also on display are longer-term projects such as 'Of Quiet Birds' by Sadie Catt – one that spans a period of 20 years and captures the maturing of a child's grief at the death of her mother and her sister. Catt observed and photographed the rise to fame of her close friend, Alice, as the lead singer of PussyLiquor punk rock group, the reshaping of Alice's family relationships, and the love that grows from grief.
Elsewhere, Maryam Wahid's personal and performative project 'Young Married and Migrated, My Mother and Me' gives an insight into British-Pakistani identity across generations and geography. The archival imagery of her eighteen-year-old mother arriving in Birmingham in the 1980s portrays a very different world to that of the young men from 'Skinningrove' captured by Killip in the same period. Reflecting on her mother's experience, Wahid has created a series of self-portraits in her mother's clothes around the city of Birmingham where her parents settled and still live today.
The exhibition also includes unseen work by Christopher Nunn produced as part of 'Sixteen', a collaborative project documenting the lives of today's 16-year olds, and Paul Alexander Knox's portrait of a young companion from the Emmaus community in Newcastle.
There will also be works by 43 young photographers from UWE Bristol and Sunderland University made during the Covid-19 pandemic. These photographs show the complexities of the past year as the students found solace in the camera, using it as a window to share both their experience and emotions.
"In drawing together a spectrum of stories from across the UK this extensive exhibition seeks to question, imagine and value what it means to be a young person in today’s shifting world," adds Hingley. "They are forging futures and building on the legacy of those who came before them."
Youth Rising in the UK 1981 – 2021 runs at Side Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 17 July until 3 October 2021. Find out more at amber-online.com.