Portfolio: Photo50, London Art Fair, N1

Time is of the essence

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The Independent Culture

In 1969, the Finnish photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen undertook a five-year project to document the working-class residents of Byker in Newcastle.

"The girl on the Space Hopper flashed by in a moment, bounded into a back lane and disappeared. I never found out who she was," she has said of the image from her acclaimed book Byker. "Then, quite recently, the girl got in touch, saying her brother had found the image on the web. When she saw it she said her whole childhood flooded back."

Konttinen revisited Byker for a new project nearly 40 years on – and found it necessary to change her methods. "Back then no one worried about a young woman walking about with a camera. Nowadays people worry if there are people with cameras around children. So this time I collaborated with people [rather than taking shots from an observational distance]. We'd talk and come up with an image to portray them."

Hence her image of David McArdle's family. "I photographed a very dignified, elderly lady from Beirut and she said, 'You must photograph my grandson, who lives a couple of doors down.' And there he was, a big Geordie lad to look at, and he had this exotic, Lebanese grandmother. It seemed everyone I spoke to in Byker this time round had a foreign connection, which was a real change from before."

Such reflections on time are at the core of A Cyclical Poem, a Photo50 exhibition at the London Art Fair this week. Other photographers featured include the former Magnum president Chris Steele-Perkins, whose emotionally raw image of his mother being laid to rest is afforded even greater resonance by being shown alongside his shot of cherry blossom, renowned for its ephemerality (both from his 2001 book Echoes); and Brian Griffin, whose contemplation of mortality is revealed not only by his project Freedom Pass, begun when he turned 60, but also by his image of a carpenter, styled to look like a knight in a medieval cathedral tomb as a tribute to his father, who died in an industrial accident in 1985.

Photo50 is at the London Art Fair, London N1 (londonartfair.co.uk), from Wednesday to 20 January