I have written of how the Side Gallery and the Amber Collective influenced my teenage years before so I will not go over that ground again here although with the celebration of the collective currently being exhibited at the Laing Art Gallery I thought I might add a few more personal memories and how they influenced me.
I will start off by recognising the fact that a photographic exhibition of this sort hosted by the Laing is a massive demonstration of how far photography has moved forward in the last 40 years. The Laing Art Gallery was and probably still is home to Newcastle City's municipal art collection, I have very few memories of seeing anything here that was truly memorable other than a multi-coloured abstract octopus shaped sculpture attached to an outside wall that was eventually removed when the city decided not to purchase.
The most influential work of the Amber collective for me personally was definitely Sirkka's work in Byker although it wasn't until recently that I realised that apart from the work itself, this work helped me see that the community I lived in was a valid photographic subject and that my "everyday" had both social and historic value to others.
In the early 1980's I was inspired to set up a community photography project in Walker, a neighbouring district of Byker in Newcastle's east end. This project taught photography to unemployed adults and youths, this work brought me into contact with the late Murray Martin one of the founders of the Amber Collective who tried to help us find a source of funding to enable us to continue our work, sadly without success. I mention this only to demonstrate that the work of this collective reaches much further than the work that hangs on the walls of the Laing today. The Amber collective taught me that photography was accessible to working class kids like me !
One of my fondest memories of the Side Gallery is of taking my late father to see the Bresson exhibition following a walk alongside the Quayside Market, he was impressed, it also helped him to understand my humble efforts of this time.
Today everyone is a photographer of sorts, this certainly was not the case back then and those with the vision to record everyday life seriously were viewed as eccentrics by many. It is only when a collection of work is seen after the passage of time that its true value can be seen and the cost of losing our visual social history can be understood.
The early Amber manifesto is worthy of any photographers consideration.
Integrate life and work and friendship.
Don't tie yourself to institutions.
Live cheaply and you will remain free.
And ,then do whatever it is that gets you up in the morning.