The photographer Chris Killip, whose work is on view at Tate Britain through September, once said that in his stark, black-and-white images of the working class, he tries to capture something of the “sublime in the everyday.” Born on the Isle of Man in 1946, Killip left school in 1962 to work as an assistant to a London advertising photographer. But his career as a photographer began in earnest after a visit in 1969 to the Museum of Modern Art, where he saw original prints by documentary photographers like Paul Strand, Walker Evans, August Sander, Robert Frank, and Eugène Atget. Inspired, Killip left his job as a commercial photographer and returned to the Isle of Man, where he worked nights in his father’s pub. By day he would photograph the island’s residents, who were at the time being rapidly displaced from their homes by members of the financial services industry. The resulting book, The Isle of Man: A Book About the Manx, is a frank, sometimes bleak depiction of the men and women of the Isle of Man and their disappearing way of life—there are portraits of thatch gatherers, photos of men working threshing machines. Later books include In Flagrante (1988), for which he won the Henri Cartier-Bresson award, and Pirelli Work (2006). Since 1991 he has taught in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University.
In this short film directed by Michael Almereyda, Killip presents a group of mostly unpublished photographs from the 1980s, taken in and around the village of Skinningrove, in North Yorkshire, and recalls his relationships with the subjects. Almereyda, who has known Killip since 1991, interviewed the photographer for Aperture magazine in 2012 to discuss a retrospective of his career that had been organized in Essen, Germany.
Skinningrove, which won the short film jury award at the Sundance Film Festival, is drawn from a slide lecture that Killip showed in preparation for their conversation, which Almereya decided to document: “We shot two takes, two camera angles, late one afternoon. In the course of editing I began to realize that the Skinningrove chapter would make a film on its own. The photographs embodied something essential about Chris’s relationship to his subjects, to the world. And so an hour-long lecture was whittled down to fifteen minutes.”
Michael Almereyda is currently finishing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and starting a film about the experimental psychologist Stanley Milgram. Chris Killip’s photographs are on display at Tate Britain through September 28, 2014. Skinningrove is distributed by The Cinema Guild.