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Chris Killip

Epithet: Photographer & Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University (1946-2020)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: Christoper David Killip was born in 1946 in the Highlander Inn, Santon, Isle of Man to Alan and Molly (nee Quirk). With a publican father Chris lived in Peel from the age of 7 until 15 (his father running the Whitehouse Hotel) and thereafter in Douglas where he finished his schooling, leaving Douglas High School for Boys aged 16. At first he worked in the Castle Mona Hotel as a night porter and in the kitchens with a view to a possible career in hotel management. Inspired by seeing a Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph in Paris Match he decided instead to become a photographer. His plan was to move to London to gain experience working with advertising photographers as a photographer’s assistant. To raise money for this venture he worked as a Keigs beach photographer in Port Erin during the summer of 1964.

In London he found work with Adrian Flowers at his Chelsea studio, receiving his first camera from Flowers as a Christmas present. Later freelance work included taking images of the model Twiggy. Prior to a Twiggy shoot for American Vogue he viewed his first exhibition of photographs at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1969 and was struck by the permanent collection of photographic work. He recalled, 'It was as serious as everything else in the museum which for me was very thrilling. And I realised then that you could do photography for its own sake which was a big dramatic moment for me because I was puzzling what I was going to do. I didn’t want to be in advertising with a fast result, I could just do it.'

That same year (1969) Killip moved back to the Isle of Man, photographing landscapes, buildings and people, particularly in rural settings, mostly from 1970 until 1973. Some of this work was exhibited in New York City. 69 images were later published in 1980 by the Arts Council as 'Isle of Man: A Book about the Manx'. Commissions and other work opportunities followed including a two-year fellowship from Northern Arts to photograph the northeast of England (sample images from which were published in the May 1977 issue of Creative Camera) and work at the Side Gallery, Newcastle, in part in the role of director. 'In Flagrante', published in 1988, show-cased his northeast England images. Between 1992 and 2004 pilgrimages and other scenes in rural Ireland were photographed, resulting in the 2009 book, 'Here Comes Everybody'.

Retrospectives of Killip's work have been held in Germany and England. Preparation for such a 2009 event caused Killip to revisit his early 1970s Manx work, selecting 250 images which in 2013 were acquired as high quality archival pigment prints by Manx National Heritage. Several of these were selected by Killip for his 2015 book 'Isle of Man Revisited' which includes images from his 1980 book with more besides. Between May and July 2016 Killip's Isle of Man photography was exhibited at the Manx Museum, Douglas with visitors encouraged to contribute details about the people and places in view.

In 1989 Kilip received the Henri Cartier Bresson Award. In 1991 he was invited to be a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachussetts. In 1994 he was made a tenured professor.

Chris Killip died aged 74 on 13 October 2020. He had been suffering from lung cancer.

Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1946

Place of birth: Douglas, Isle of Man

Date of death: 13 October 2020


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