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Shirley Baker

Shirley Baker (1932 – 2014) was born in Salford, near Manchester, and lived in Wilmslow, in Cheshire for most of her married life. She took up photography at the age of eight when she and her twin sister were given Brownie cameras by an uncle. Shirley’s passion for photography stuck and she went on to study Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology, being one of very few women in post-war Britain to receive formal photographic training.

Upon graduating, she took up a position at Courtaulds the fabric manufacturers, as an in-house factory photographer. Working in industry did not meet her photographic ambitions in wanting to emulate a ‘slice of life’ style similar to that of Cartier-Bresson. She soon left to take up freelance work in the North West.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s she continuously photographed a range of humanist subjects, sparked by her amusement and curiosity of human character and behaviour, and a compassion for social injustice. However, it is her empathetic but unsentimental photographs of inner-city working-class communities in Salford and Manchester as they experienced years of ‘slum’ clearance that has come to define her distinct vision. This twenty-year period sees Shirley evolve her ideas of documentary form and subject matter.