The key to understanding Martin Jenkinson’s photography practice is this: “He wasn’t just doing it for a news story.”
This statement, from his daughter Justine Jenkinson, might seem like an unusual one considering the fact he was a photojournalist, but he was as much protestor as he was a photographer. He stood shoulder to shoulder with the Sheffield steelworkers that he had been made redundant with in 1979. And he was as much campaigner as he was documenter when he marched on the picket line with the miners at Orgreave about to suffer the same fate as the steelworkers.
Jenkinson understood what he was taking photos of; he knew what it was like to have your livelihood ripped away; he understood that feeling of desperation and empowerment when raising a placard above your head. “It wasn’t like my dad was parachuted in to take photos of these events, he was there anyway,” Justine says. And you can tell. He finds minute details and faces – the characteristics that define the individuals in the midst of the protest. In one photograph shot from behind a row of police helmets, a young woman looks wearily into Jenkinson’s camera: she seems on the verge of tears and her exhaustion tells the story of a battle not yet won.
It’s this humanity that Justine appreciates most in her dad’s work. Now the manager of Jenkinson’s extensive archive since he passed away in 2012, Justine is very well acquainted with her dad’s thousands of images. She still has a favourite though. “I like the style of a photo taken at a miners’ gala in Doncaster in 1982. There are two old men and a child waiting for the speeches, one of the old men is smoking and the child has an ice cream. What I love about it is that although it was a commissioned job for the NUM, he still found a bit of humour. It shows that he had a real interest in people. To me, that is really typical of my dad.”
In his quest to find the people, Jenkinson inevitably uncovered moments of real despair. He was at Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground in 1989 during the Hillsborough disaster when 96 football fans were crushed to death. On that particular day, he wasn’t working but Justine notes: “he said he probably couldn’t have taken those photos because it really affected him.” Jenkinson returned to the ground the next day to capture people laying flowers. Stood a little way back, he does not disturb the mourners, but frames perfectly the delicacy of individuals bending down to mark the spot where their loved ones were lost.
Nearly 30 years on, there’s still plenty of social and political upheaval to document. What does Justine think her dad would have made of today’s turbulence? “Even though he was due to retire, I’ve got a sneaky feeling he would have been out there taking pictures of the protests. And not just taking the pictures, he would have been out there protesting.”
Martin Jenkinson’s photography is currently celebrated in Who We Are: Photographs at Weston Park Museum, Sheffield.