Make Life Worth Living – hard-hitting photography commissioned by Shelter

Forlorn faces stare out of forlorn rooms, children play at war on desolate streets and threadbare curtains frame the sad face of a little boy.

“Make Life Worth Living”, terrace of back-to-back houses, Leeds, West Yorkshire, July 1970

Source: © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

“Make Life Worth Living”, terrace of back-to-back houses, Leeds, West Yorkshire, July 1970

These hard-hitting, powerful images were all taken by Nick Hedges between 1968 and 1972, as a commission for housing charity Shelter to illustrate the lives of people for whom poor housing conditions like the ones shown were a reality. 

Kitchen of slum house, Birmingham Duddleston, August 1970

Source: © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Kitchen of slum house, Birmingham Duddleston, August 1970

A new exhibition at the Science Museum’s Media Space will show 100 of the 1000 images captured by Hedges during his three years travelling and photographically documenting deprived areas in the UK, creating a disquieting narrative about problems that are sadly just as relevant now as they were over 30 years ago.

Mrs T and her family of 5 lived in a decaying terraced house owned by a steelworks. She had no gas, no electricity, no hot water, no bathroom. Her cooking was done on the fire in the living room. Sheffield, May 1969

Source: © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Mrs T and her family of 5 lived in a decaying terraced house owned by a steelworks. She had no gas, no electricity, no hot water, no bathroom. Her cooking was done on the fire in the living room. Sheffield, May 1969

Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, says: “Nick’s pictures were crucial to the early days of Shelter’s campaigning, capturing a stark reality that many people in Britain couldn’t even imagine, let alone believe was happening in their community.”

He adds: “It’s nearly fifty years since these pictures were taken and the Shelter journey began; I truly hope in another fifty years our journey will have long been completed and that bad housing and homelessness will be a thing of the past, rather than a challenge for our future.”

“It’s disgusting and appalling. The Housing Minister (Peter Walker) came round here and said it wasn’t fit for human habitation, and I’m still here.” Mrs Chichockjy, Liverpool 8, July 1971

Source: © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

“It’s disgusting and appalling. The Housing Minister (Peter Walker) came round here and said it wasn’t fit for human habitation, and I’m still here.” Mrs Chichockjy, Liverpool 8, July 1971

Until this show, the images’ use has been restrict in order to protect the privacy of the people pictured in the images.

Mr and Mrs Gallagher lived with their 4 children in a ground floor tenement flat. Their bedroom was covered in pools of rainwater. At night they sleep with the light on to keep the rats away. One night they counted 16 rats in the room. Glasgow Maryhill, O

Source: © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Mr and Mrs Gallagher lived with their 4 children in a ground floor tenement flat. Their bedroom was covered in pools of rainwater. At night they sleep with the light on to keep the rats away. One night they counted 16 rats in the room. Glasgow Maryhill, October 1970

Hedges says: “Although these photographs have become historical documents, they serve to remind us that secure and adequate housing is the basis of a civilised urban society.

“The failure of successive governments to provide for it is a sad mark of society’s inaction. The photographs should allow us to celebrate progress, yet all they can do is haunt us with a sense of failure.”

Children living in substandard property, Birmingham Balsall Heath, June 1969

Source: © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Children living in substandard property, Birmingham Balsall Heath, June 1969

Make Life Worth Living: Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter, 1968-72 is on show  in the Virgin Media Studio, Media Space, Science Museum London from 2 October 2014 – 18 January 2015.

Birmingham, January 1969 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Source: Birmingham, January 1969 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Mr and Mrs M and their four children lived in a council owned house in Vincent Crescent, Balsall Heath. Apart from the poor state of the property – no bathroom, no hot water, outside lavatory, inside walls running with damp – these children were sleeping in the middle of winter, on two sodden seat cushions covered by a couple of old ‘macs’, there was no heating in the room, the snow lay thick outside and the windows were broken. Birmingham, January 1969 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

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  • michelle cichockyj November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I hav looked at the picture wer mrs cichockyj made a statement n wud jst like to say that is my mother who has sadly passed away now an my sister yvon..who i hav jst showed the photo too..thank you

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