Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen (b. 1948) is a Finnish photographer who has worked in Britain since the 1960s. Born in Myllykoski, municipality of Sippola, Finland, Konttinen moved to London to study film in the late 1960s at the Polytechnic in Regent Street. In 1968, she co-founded the Amber Film and Photography Collective, which moved to Newcastle in 1969.


From 1969 Konttinen lived in Byker, and for seven years photographed and interviewed the residents of this area of terraced houses until her own house was demolished. By the time Konttinen arrived to Byker, the town was already scheduled for demolition, to make way for the Byker Wall Estate. She continued to work there for some time afterwards. This resulted in the book Byker, which in David Alan Mellor’s words 'bore witness to her intimate embeddedness in the locality.'  Today, this body of work is considered to be by the UNESCO, of high national value to the United Kingdom as a profound account of the working class and marginalised communities in the North East of England. 


In 1980 she became the first photographer since the Cultural Revolution to have her work exhibited by the British Council in China. Konttinen’s next project Step by Step, was a study of girls attending dance schools in North Shields, their mothers, and the schools. This series became a heavy influence in Lee Hall's development and writing for his play Dancer, which later became the cult coming-of-age film Billy Elliot.




"One way or another I had grown to be part of my street, and the community. It had been my first own home, and a real home for me. As my neighbour Nancy points out proudly: 'When she first came in our street, she couldn't tell 'hello' from 'tarra', and now she speaks Finnish with a Geordie accent!'”


- Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen on Byker




Three years of photographing the beach between Seaham and Hartlepool resulted in the series Coal Coast. Between 2003 and 2009, Konttinen returned to Byker and photographed its new residents in colour in Byker Revisited.