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Represent poverty through recognisably Dickensian tropes -- the too-big hand-me-down boots, the thick socks, the bad teeth ?

It's almost redundant to call the republication of In Flagrante, Chris Killip's classic work of the 1970s and 1980s, a timely one. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher punished the north for rejecting her party by refusing them any means of humane transition into a post-industrial world. Killip's depiction of the effects of this policy on the coastal towns of the north-east was a metonym for a more wholesale dismantling and dereliction. The book affords us a way we might think about how our own poverty currently looks.

The new edition is shorn of the original text by John Berger and Sylvia Grant; their collaborative essay has not aged well, and did Killip's images no favours. No scene was not apparently charged with some larger allegorical responsibility, no figure not contemplating the bleak future or the human condition -- or worse, salvaging some small redemption from the ashes; even a patch of Brussels sprouts was obliged to shoulder the burden of human hope. But there's little redemption in these photographs, and therein lies their power. (The new edition also loses Killip's own introduction, where he describes his work as "a fiction about metaphor" -- a scrupulously unhelpful remark, as much of its time as Berger's essay. I have still no idea what he means. The work is not a fiction, nor is it concerned with metaphor, if either of these words are to be conventionally defined.)

Helen and Hula Hoop, Seacoal Beach, Lynemouth, Northumberland

The 1980s were also possibly the last time we could represent poverty through recognisably Dickensian tropes -- the too-big hand-me-down boots, the thick socks, the bad teeth, the half-open flies. Killip's north looks exactly like our present idea of small-town Albania, and his subjects so deeply disenfranchised that "working class" seems an almost aspirational condition.

'In Flagrante Two' by Chris Killip is published by Steidl, £58, steidl.de. Don Paterson received the 2015 Costa Poetry Award for his most recent book, '40 Sonnets', published by Faber & Faber; faber.co.uk.

'In Flagrante Two', an exhibition of Chris Killip's photographs, is at the Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, from January 28 to February 27; yossimilo.com
Tenth Avenue between 24th and 25th Streets.


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