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Echoes of the past

23 September 2009 by stepheng

man looking at photo of woman

Stephen with the photo of Lizzie Christian

We would drive around Liverpool in a mini chasing news – two six footers crammed in the tiny car.

Stephen Shakeshaft was already an established staff photographer at the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo in Victoria Street when I joined as a news reporter in April 1970.

Even as a young man he was very distinguished-looking, tall with an aristocratic nose and an excellent head of hair (which he still has). Stephen was also very funny ha-ha, veering between droll comments and biting sarcasm. We got on well and often traded insults.

It was obvious that he was a rising star among some other very talented people in the office including John Sergeant, Tony Wilson and Roger Alton.

This is not to mention others making their mark such as Phil Key and a youthful, pipe-smoking Joe Riley. I worked with them all until September 1973 when I joined the Press Association in Fleet Street.

Stephen sometimes gave the impression of being rather cautious and methodical. This was deceptive as I could see he was always looking out for a good picture.

I have never seen him at a loss or flustered in any way. I think he may have sometimes regarded his day-to-day work as unchallenging – such things as head-the-ball shots at soccer matches, people scurrying out of the criminal courts or competition winners.

Stephen always poked behind the scenes for gold and about 70 of these largely hidden treasures are on view in his new exhibition Stephen Shakeshaft: Liverpool People at the National Conservation Centre until 24 January 2010.

I find this show totally and utterly fascinating. These brilliant studies capture a Liverpool going through great change from the 1960s onwards.

This is the third of Stephen’s exhibitions I have helped to publicise. I think it is the best because it demonstrates his great ability to capture the personalities of ordinary people.

He has also recorded some of the city streets as they were before pedestrianisation, CCTV, pelican crossings and hideous steel shutters.

This is a world before superstores sucked the life out of our corner shops and closed local pubs, where most people got around on shanks’s pony or took public transport.

To me the pictures evoke a time when people enjoyed mucking in together and laughing at the experience.

I also remember some of the people in the pictures. One of my favourites is this famous shot of greengrocer Lizzie Christian at her city centre barrow (shown). Mrs Christian always had a ready smile for everyone, lighting up the street around her.

Other pictures I like include a crowded wash house which was a great place for exchanging news, Prime Minister Harold Wilson at a packed public meeting and two dockers with a traditional wooden handcart.

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