Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

Born in Myllykoski, Finland, in 1948, Sirkka began taking photographs at the age of twelve, inspired by her aunt Oili, who was a skilful amateur photographer.

She developed a keen interest in documentary photography and later decided to study film making in the UK, enrolling at the Regent Street Polytechnic film school in London. Whilst there, she formed the Amber Collective with Murray Martin and a number of other fellow students. In 1969, the collective moved to Newcastle- upon-Tyne in the North East of England, seeking to document working class communities in film and in photographs, and in 1977 established the Side Photographic Gallery. Since then, Sirkka has played an active part in most aspects of Amber/Side's work. Her central involvement has been in the production of a number of long term photographic projects, resulting in exhibitions, books and documentary films.

Sirkka is perhaps best known for her book Byker of 1983, a seminal portrait of the terraced Newcastle community, eventually bulldozed to make way for the Byker Wall and the wholesale redevelopment of the area. She began her project in 1969, when she moved to the North East of England and lived in Byker for seven years, until her own house was demolished. Thereafter she continued to photograph and to collect testimonies from the residents for a further five years.

Step by Step was a similarly long-term commitment, in which she explored the dreams and realities of a group of mothers and daughters at a North Shields dancing school - part of a broader engagement with North Shields undertaken by the whole Amber collective.
in the Sand came out of Sirkka's twenty five year photographic engagement with the vibrant life of the beaches of the North East. Storm days excepted she begins her mornings with a swim in the sea, and although her new work, The Coal Coast, represents for her the radical move to colour, this series of powerful images capturing the 'terrible beauty' of the Durham coastline presents a natural extension of her concerns. This exhibition and book form part of Coalfield Stories, Side Gallery's documentation of post industrial experience in County Durham.