Rye Hill, Newcastle 1968
by Carolyn Scott
Cafe Royal Books
36 pages, staple bound, 14cm x 20cm
printed in England
The streets of Newcastle, like Liverpool, and Glasgow, lends itself to poignant photos. Each has its own Camera Hero, local people, untrained eyes, cheap often second hand cameras. Much celebrated in Newcastle is Jimmy Forthsyth, east end based, he captured many of the similar places and faces, times and changes depicted by Carolyn Scott in her new collection from Café Royal Press. I wasn't living in Newcastle at the time Carolyn was active, my explorations came later. But these photos illustrate the stories friends tell me, echoed too in the pages of reminiscences in the local press, and on the walls of local community art shows.Much of these streets and homes are long gone, the terraces, old Tyneside Flats, outside toilets, tin baths in the yard, most were almost gone when Carolyn was capturing the people and the area. Now 60 years on, many of the Tower Blocks being thrown up then, so modern then, visible in the background, are themselves being demolished. There's all too little sense of community in these areas now. Drugs, crime, alcohol and complete economic breakdown have left these areas ripe for abandonment, demolition and subsequent regeneration, (same old, same old).
What strikes me more positively is the swagger and style of the people, yeah they were poor, yeah they were in some cases abandoned, but there was hope, as the buildings being thrown up were meant to show. Carolyn captures that spirit and neighbourhood pride in the people's faces. That's a hard skill to master.
The last photo in the set, the view of and through the partially demolished mullioned window of a church, reminds me of an opening shot in a 60s /70s BBC sitcom, Whatever happened to the Likely Lads, (bound to be on YouTube or even BBC iPlayer).
Carolyn's book illuminates the city, and it's people, and communities soon to be swept away in the 'New' Newcastle, with wave upon wave of redevelopment coming - enjoying varying degrees of success. Carolyn's images capture that old Newcastle as the changes were happening, and the communities were being broken up, though no one realised how much would change in this area, as jobs, skills, money and people moved to new developments and the New Towns on the City's edge.
Looking at these photos sometimes feels like it's a Zoo, capturing people's misery and lives, especially for people like me, 'blow-in' to the City, newly arrived, taking up residence in the muesli belt. The city has changed so much, but areas like Rye Hill have perhaps worse poverty now than when these photos were taken.
Carolyn does capture a "why me, I'm nothing special," in these faces. And there's the style, and elegance in the stances, a stoical sense of pride, not being beaten and broken, a sense of hope that while the great times may not be back, better times could be just around the corner.
Those faces on Tyneside would look the same now, a pragmatic pride and a spirit of let's get on with it. Looking at these photos it's clear these lives are nowhere near the one I've enjoyed, but throughout the collection it is clear that Carolyn was a welcome and trusted observer.
These images capture a past that may have gone in Rye Hill, but really has only moved to other homes, in other neighbourhoods, in other cities. These photos could have been taken and tell a similar story in areas of Leeds, Sheffield, Bolton, Rotherham, or Wigan. Many, many places never to be touched by the mythmaking of levelling up in the North of England.
Carolyn Scott's work celebrates those ordinary unrecorded lives in hard times, with all their grit and their own glamour. Decades on, these images offer a poignancy in depicting the correlation of unserious regeneration, and more serious managed decline.
Rye Hill, Newcastle 1968 by Carolyn Scott is available now from Café Royal Press, here