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BBC Four look at the forgotten work of visionary photographer Tish Murtha


BBC Four look at the forgotten work of visionary photographer Tish Murtha

A documentary captures the incredible story of the photographer who used her lens to fight for social change and celebrate overlooked working-class lives.

Tish Murtha emerged from the North East in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain to expose class prejudices, unemployment, and the struggles and triumphs of her local community. Now, her daughter, Ella Murtha, unlocks the doors to her mother’s extraordinary long-hidden archive of black and white images.

“It’s brilliant that there is so much love for my mam and her work (which was my greatest wish), but I’m finding it quite devastating that she died feeling so worthless. She was the most wonderful mam (which I didn’t always appreciate until it was too late), and I miss her so much. When I was younger, she was so full of life and great fun to be around, and to watch the spark go out in her was absolutely heartbreaking. I just wish she knew how much she means to people, even those who never met her.”Ella Murtha

Inside, a treasure trove of unseen images, personal artefacts, letters and diaries awaits, revealing the true essence of this enigmatic artist.

As she unravels her mother’s life, Ella also embarks on a journey of self-discovery, reconciling her grief as she connects with those who knew her mother best. Tish’s own journey was more than just a tale of artistic brilliance, it resonated with profound empathy, purpose, and unwavering principles.

But, unlike many, Tish didn’t capture their world from the outside. She lived and breathed it with them, walking the same streets and facing the same struggles. Through Tish’s eyes, we gain insight into the challenges faced by working-class people which are strikingly pertinent today.

Yet, despite the profound impact of her work, Tish was unable to escape the poverty she so vividly documented. Tragically, she died aged 56, her work relatively unknown. This documentary is a tribute to courage, love, and the transformative power of art.

“She just photographed what she knew, and that was people. She had always been a people watcher long before she ever picked up a camera, but once she discovered the magic of photography, she found her calling, and she could never be anything else. Her photos are almost autobiographical. There is a part of her in every image.”Ella Murtha

Tish is directed by Paul Sng and stars Maxine Peake as the voice of Tish Murtha and airs tonight at 9 pm on BBC Four.

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