Throughout the 1970s Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen documented the terraced streets of Byker, which were demolished to make way for Ralph Erskine’s visionary Byker Wall Estate at the end of that decade. In 2005, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen returned to Byker, initially invited a year or two before by community workers who were using her photographs to explain to asylum seekers the history of place to which UK government dispersal policies had sent them. The estate was to have rehoused the original community intact, but inevitably didn’t.
Negotiating an individual journey through the new Byker, Sirkka invited people to imagine their lives in ‘just one picture’, then developed the ideas in improvised and occasionally chaotic sessions with the participants. She built a personal portrait of the estate: a kind of virtual community. Some individuals had been photographed in the original project. She found a few of the remaining extended families of the traditional working class, for whom the estate had been designed. There are the self-defined individuals who seem to flourish in a street plan outsiders find impossible to navigate. Perhaps because she had been a stranger in the original Byker, Sirkka found herself drawn to the refugees, mostly housed in the hard-to-let properties of the estate, where the limitations of its planned lifespan have become most visible.
She worked with over 100 individuals and families. As with the original project, ‘Byker Revisited’ became an exhibition, book and an Amber film. ‘Today I’m With You’ follows her journey, opening up on the richly complex, often transient and fragile nature of contemporary urban lives – and the architecture that is part of the story.
‘Today I’m With You’ was broadcast on BBC4 in September 2010. It’s production (and the photographic project out of which it grew) was supported by Northern Rock Foundation, Northern Film + Media, Millfield House Foundation, Baring Foundation, Arts Council England and NewcastleGateshead Initiative (Culture10).
Amber Films 2010
Duration: 54 mins