An exclusive chat with photographer Chris Killip and his son – who uncovered a lost archive of an 80s punk venue
In 2016, Matthew Killip discovered a box of contact sheets at his father’s studio documenting 80s punk venue, The Station. Here, the father and son chat about this serendipitous recovery.
Article published on It's Nice That, 15 April 2020.
Not many can say they’ve uncovered a lost photography archive from 30 years ago – especially if it’s the archive of Chris Killip, a Manx photographer known for his black and white documentation of working-class communities in northern England. Chris’ iconic images are gritty, and his renowned works include In Flagrante, a poignant documentation of the damage Margaret Thatcher’s policies had on families in the UK between 1973 and 1985 and beyond.
Well, that was exactly what happened to his son, Matthew Killip, a filmmaker and editor who, in 2016, discovered a box filled with his father’s contact sheets; their images documenting the Anarcho-Punk movement of the 80s. In this box, he found a collection of flash-lit, black and white pictures taken in Gateshead at a music venue called The Station. These images are now the focus of a new hardback publication of the same name, published by Steidl.
Before hearing more about this recovery, I take a comfortable seat at my work-from-home desk. It’s a radiant afternoon and the sun is beaming through the window; the calm before the storm, so to speak, just days before the lockdown was to take place in the UK. Skype launches and I see two akin faces smiling at me from across the pond in Boston and New York. During such precarious times, technology really does work in our favour.
“Shall I talk about this then, dad?” asks Matthew of the moment when he discovered the archive, while Chris responds in delightful agreement. “All right, then,” he continues, “so my dad was a professor at Harvard – he retired two years ago, and he had a studio filled with an incredible collection of photo books and his own archive. For me, it was an amazing place to come and route around.” As would any curious son, Matthew often found himself nose-deep in his father’s books. It was during one of these visits that he discovered the contact sheets from The Station.
“I was in the studio and it all went quiet,” recalls Chris, “and I wondered what he was doing. Then, he came up with this box and said, ‘dad, what are these?’” It had been around three decades since Chris had last seen the contacts, long enough to have completely forgotten about them. Matthew demanded that he take a second look, and Chris trusted that his filmmaker son would have good judgement. “When he’d gone back to New York, I started to go through the box and I marked up the contacts – it must have been about 180 potential pictures, and I printed them all as small prints. I thought they were pretty good, and it’s amazing that I didn’t realise it before. But still, better late than never.”