Eye on four decades of  real lives 

A miner sporting  a toy policeman’s helmet going face-to-face with a line of police at the  strike confrontation at Orgreave in 1984 became Sheffield-based photojournalist Martin Jenkinson’s most famous image.

While he became known for memorable photographs of British protests  through the Eighties a new exhibition at Weston Park Museum shows the breadth of his work.

Who We Are: Photographs by Martin Jenkinson is the first major retrospective, bringing together 89 of his most compelling images.

Born in London, Jenkinson moved to Sheffield in 1976, initially working in the city’s steel industry.  After being made redundant in 1979, he turned his hobby of photography into a career through a placement with the Woodhouse community newspaper, The Woodpecker, and within a year he had begun to establish himself as a freelance snapper.

A strong sense of social justice is  evident in the subjects he gravitated towards and the images he created. Jenkinson was the official photographer on the 1981 People’s March for Jobs and went on to be  regularly commissioned by  unions. 

Who We Are will include highlights of Jenkinson’s most recognisable protest images, like the miner in the comic hat which he only went up close to take because he noticed the police had no numbers on their uniforms.

His picture of Arthur Scargill being arrested on the same day at Orgreave was selected for the National Portrait Gallery’s 100 Faces of the Century.

They both featured in the recent Changing Lives exhibition at Weston Park which proved the genesis of this show after Louisa Briggs, Exhibitions and Display Curator at Museums Sheffield met Martin’s widow, Edwina, and daughter Justine who took over his archive after his death in 2012 aged 64.

“Talking to Justine it was clear that beyond protest and the political there was a huge number of other subjects he captured and we should do something with that body of work to make a retrospective,” she says.

 Jenkinson’s work offers an evocative window on to  the city’s past with such images as f Maxine Duffat, the first black woman bus driver in South Yorkshire, lost city landmark, the Hole in the Road, and  1,500 people queuing to apply for 50 jobs at a new Sheffield restaurant in 1983.

Who We Are also presents a selection of the reportage images Jenkinson created on his travels, such as a 1982 image of a butcher’s shop in a  Palestinian refugee camp and a mother feeding a reluctant child seen from a window in Italy.

The images have been selected in partnership with Justine who says taking over responsibility for his  sizeable photographic archive was made easier because Martin was very methodical. Contact sheets were kept in  yellow and orange photographic paper boxes labelled with subject and dates. These could be cross-checked with his work diaries and website.

Running the archive meant  that Justine had to give up her full-time  job in the civil service to field requests from newspapers, magazines and books and licensing and copyright issues though now much of this is handled by an agency, DACS.

Most are black and white images developed and printed in the darkroom in his garage at home but there are ones in colour, particularly those taken abroad, as photographic techniques changed.

“With the advent of digital he taught himself the same way he had with photography itself. Later he was asked to give classes on photo-shopping and digital,” she says.

Certain images that didn’t make the cut can be viewed on a showreel. Also on display are contact sheets showing the choices he made not only in picture selection but in crops.

The exhibition also includes a mock-up of Jenkinson’s office complete with his actual desk and sticker-emblazoned filing cabinet, his trademark multi-pocketed khaki waistcoat and a display of his press passes and lanyard to events down the years.

“The exhibition is about how Martin has portrayed people and it felt right that we should try and include some sense of the man,” explains Louisa Briggs.

Jenkinson was unusual among professional photographers in liking to take pictures outside of work.

“He would always take all his equipment with us on holiday and  take pictures wherever he went,” says Edwina. “They weren’t holiday snaps with the family in it, often he would go off on his own.”

Sent to cover a conference in Blackpool he would get up early and take his camera to the beach

There are only a couple of pictures of Martin himself. “He didn’t like having his photograph taken,” says Edwina which Justine confirms: “I came across an envelope of pictures of him hidden away high up on a top shelf.”

Who We Are: Photographs by Martin Jenkinson  continues at Weston Park until April 14, 2019