Paul Leadbitter's profile

Shirley Baker: women and children; and loitering men

Shirley Baker: Women and children; and loitering men
Book design

We met Shirley Baker in November 2012, in Nottingham, at the opening for the photographic exhibition Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, curated by Anna Douglas. Twelve of her photographs were included in the show. During the dinner that followed the private view Shirley mentioned that both her books were out of print, and we rashly promised to make her the best book she had ever had.

More serious discussion between myself, curator Anna Douglas, and Shirley explored ideas for an exhibition and a book. As is usual with our approach to such projects, the book was not to be a catalogue: it was to have relevance beyond the exhibition.

Following Shirley’s untimely death in September 2014, we continued to work with Anna on design concepts while she worked hard at fund raising. In March 2015 we approached The Photographers’ Gallery, London, and they agreed to publish the book at the launch of the exhibition, which would open in July.

With time suddenly very short, detailed and lengthy narrative picture editing followed, with corresponding layout work. Anna wrote a comprehensive essay which examined Shirley’s technical training, philosophy and picture making practice, set against the prevailing social context and the status quo of working practices of the period. Award winning author Jackie Kay was commissioned to write a short story based on her selection of photographs.

The show opened to broad media coverage and attendance was strong throughout the summer. Our book was printed in three editions, all of which sold out.​​​​​​​
The exhibition was installed on one floor, and included a soundscape by Derek Nisbet. Although mainly monochrome prints, around thirty colour prints were included, most of which had not been exhibited before.

Our book was included in the photography book award exhibition at PhotoEspaña 2016.

It was a privilege to be part of the effort to bring Shirley’s work to a fresh audience, and the book is our most ambitious collaborative project to date.

Working with Hands-on is always a great challenge, in all the right positive ways: rigorous intellectual discussion – even disputes – lead to respectful and inclusive collaboration, which in turn results in high quality design. Never showy, always thoughtful, the design work services my creative presentation and interpretation of the art works, while enhancing the primary art works themselves.

Anna Douglas Curator

Format: 280mm x 210mm
Case bound + dust jacket
CMYK throughout

Installation photography copyright Kate Elliot

Shirley Baker: women and children; and loitering men

Shirley Baker: women and children; and loitering men

Book designed to accompany exhibition of Shirley Baker’s street photography at the Photographers’ Gallery, London, 2015