Anna McNay

Amber Film & Photography Collective


Amber Film & Photography Collective

For Ever Amber: Stories From A Film & Photography

Laing Art Gallery

27 June – 19 September 2015

Integrate life and
work and friendship

Don’t tie yourself
to institutions.

Live cheaply and
you’ll remain free.

And, then, do
whatever it is that gets you up in the morning.

This maxim, taken from an early manifesto, is as relevant
today as it was back in 1968 when the Amber Film & Photography Collective
first came together, following the vision of founder member Murray Martin
(1943-2007). Originally from Stoke, Martin had studied Fine Art in Newcastle
before deciding what he was really interested in was filmmaking. While studying
this at Regent Street Polytechnic, he met, among others, Finnish photographer
Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen and, in 1969, they decided to head back up north and
start working as a collective. ‘Some people chose butterflies,’ wrote Martin
looking back. ‘I sought to reconnect myself with the working class culture and
community which had nurtured me.’ He saw documentary as the act of a collector,
collecting people through whom his vision could be articulated.

‘They were looking for a place where they could really embed
themselves, with a strong sense of community,’ explains Amber member Graeme
Rigby of the move to the North East. ‘Part of the attraction to marginalised
cultures was the sense that those awe-inspiring working class contexts were
disappearing.’  In addition, because
Martin had done some teaching at Newcastle Polytechnic, he had contacts there
and felt he could sort out paid jobs for members to help finance the
collective. Things were fairly tough at the start and Konttinen even did a stint
as a go-go dancer. All money earned by members of the collective was pooled and
they paid themselves a very low wage – about £8 a week. This is still the same
today, although what a member gets out depends somewhat on how much time he or
she puts in. By Konttinen’s recent calculations, the minimum wage has been
around £3 per week for the last three years.

To read the rest of this essay, please go to:


Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen