Back in the day, cameras mostly came out for happy holiday snaps. Today we photograph every aspect of our daily lives – from selfies to the food on our plate.

But how many of us look beyond ourselves and our immediate network? Judging from the many millions of self-obsessed photos shared every day, the answer is remarkably few.

So it was a rare joy to happen across an exhibition of Shirley Baker’s photography during a recent visit to the Manchester International Festival.

In the 1960s, Baker photographed inner-city working-class communities during Manchester’s ‘slum’ clearances. Her unposed, spontaneous photographs evoke the spirit of the time. Her unsentimental empathy brings to life the extraordinary ordinary.


Among so many wonderful photos, this was my favourite and I was delighted later to discover that it was also Baker’s. She said: “I can remember seeing this graffiti and thinking it was rather artistic, but I wanted a human face. A little boy was about to walk past, so I waited and took one shot.”

Baker’s work reminds us how empathy and the authentic combine to genuinely engage audiences, whether you stumble across it in an art gallery… or an employee communication.

If you can, visit the exhibition – Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men – before it closes on 28 August. Alternatively, visit this website dedicated to her work.