“I photographed the demolition of the slums of Manchester and Salford from the 1960s for 15 years. The area's housing had always beensubstandard , but nobody thought anything of it. They were used to it. The buildings were coal black and the water at the docks was like treacle. After the demolitions, all the moths changed colour.
People were turfed out of their homes. Some squatted in old buildings, trying to hang on to the life they knew. They didn't have much and things were decided for them. A lot of people had dropped through the net and didn't even know they were entitled to benefits. Some needed help but no one had even heard of a psychiatrist.
I would go out on to the streets capturing this upheaval, photographing people I came across, like this boy. I couldn't help it: around every corner there was someone different. It became an obsession.
There was so much destruction: a street would be half pulled down and the remnants set on fire while people were still living in the area. As soon as any houses were cleared, children would move in and break all the windows, starting the demolition process themselves. There was no health and safety in those days; they could do as they liked.
I never posed my pictures. I shot scenes as I found them. I can remember seeing this graffiti and thinking it was rather artistic, but I wanted a human face. A little boy was about to walk past, so I waited and took one shot. I like the contrast between the face on the wall and his. To me, he symbolised the optimism and humour of the people, despite the doom and gloom.” (Interview by Sarah Phillips)
All images © Shirley Baker