Tish Murtha

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Tish Murtha
Patricia Anne Murtha

(1956-03-14)14 March 1956
Died13 March 2013(2013-03-13) (aged 56)
Nationality British
Education The University of Wales, Newport
Known for Photography
Style Social documentary photography
Website tishmurtha.co.uk

Patricia Anne "Tish" Murtha (14 March 1956 – 13 March 2013) was a British social documentary photographer best known for documenting marginalised communities, [1] social realism [2] and working class life [3] in Newcastle upon Tyne and the North East of England.


The posthumously published books of her work are Youth Unemployment (2017), Elswick Kids (2018) and Juvenile Jazz Bands (2020).

Background and education

Murtha was born on 14 March 1956 in South Shields, [4] North East, England. In 1976, aged 20, she left home to study at the School of Documentary Photography at The University of Wales, Newport, set up by Magnum Photos member David Hurn. After graduating in 1978, she returned to Newcastle and set out to document “marginalized communities from the inside”. Unlike other photographers who came to document social poverty in the region at the time, Murtha didn’t just document it, she actually lived it [5] as the third of ten children of Irish descent, [6] brought up in a council house in Elswick in Newcastle. She captured the lives of her friends, family and the community around her while she was on a job scheme for the unemployed. [7] [8] [9]


This led to the then controversial exhibitions Juvenile Jazz Bands (1979) and Youth Unemployment (1981), [8] [10] which was raised as a subject of debate in the House of Commons. [11] Around this time Murtha was also commissioned to document the campaign Save Scotswood Works (1979) [8] and provided photographs for the THAC (Tyneside Housing Aid Centre) publications Do you know what this is doing to my little girl? - Home Truths in the Year Of The Child (1979) and Burying The Problem (1980), highlighting social poverty on Tyneside.

In 1982, Murtha moved to London, where she worked on London By Night (1983) along with Bill Brandt, Brian Griffin and Peter Marlow. The group exhibition documenting Soho and the commercial sex industry, was exhibited in The Photographers’ Gallery, London. [12] Murtha lived in the capital for five years, working on commission for Edward Arnold Publishers. She also photographed emerging celebrities Julian Clary and Philip Herbert and took the first headshots of a young Declan Donnelly upon her return to the north east in 1987.

Between 2008 and 2012, Murtha's work was selected for three Arts Council / British Council Collection exhibitions; No Such Thing as Society: Photography in Britain 1967–1987: From the Arts Council Collection and the British Council Collection [13] [14] [15] showcased "a radically new picture of these two turbulent decades"; Unpopular Culture – Grayson Perry Selects from the Arts Council Collection [16] examined 70 works by 50 artists Perry describes as belonging to a period "before British art became fashionable" [17] ; Observadores - Fotógrafos Da Cena Britânica Desde 1930 Até Hoje (Observers: British Photography and the British Scene) was "the first exhibition ever staged in Brazil to chart a course through British photography in modern times." [18]

In 2011, the group exhibition Paul Graham , Tish Murtha and Markéta Luskačová formed part of Look 11: Liverpool International Photography Festival. [19] [20]

Posthumously, Murtha's work was included in the group exhibitions True/Grit - A Celebration of Northern Realism (2013) [8] , For Ever Amber (2015). [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] and Childhoods - 1977 to 2016 (2016). [27]

Death and legacy

On 13 March 2013—the day before what would have been her 57th birthday—Murtha died after suffering a sudden brain aneurysm. [5]

She is survived by her daughter, Ella, and grandson, Dexter.

Paul Reas and Lulu Preece at University of South Wales began scanning the Tish Murtha archive, [28] which contains thousands of previously unseen images. Her daughter Ella published the book Youth Unemployment through Bluecoat Press in November 2017 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. [29]

A documentary film about Murtha's life titled Tish, directed by Paul Sng, opened Sheffield DocFest on 14 June 2023. [30]


Publications by Murtha

Zines by Murtha

Books and exhibition catalogues with contributions by Murtha

Other publications


Murtha's work is held in the following public collections:


Solo exhibitions

Group exhibitions


  1. Café Royal's page about Newport Tip 1978 is here.
  2. Café Royal's page about Newport Doc Photo Class of '78 is here.
  3. Café Royal's page about The Queen's Silver Jubilee Newport 1977 is here.
  4. Photoworks' page for Issue 10 is here.
  5. Wombat's page about Portfolio No. 24 is here
  6. The Photographers' Gallery page about Volume 4, Number 2 is here

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