ACCLAIMED social documentary photographer Ian Beesley has spent the last five decades documenting life in the North of England.

The Bradford photographer planned to retire this year. However, the appetite for his work is stronger than ever.

So in April - the month he turns 70 - a previously unseen selection of Beesley’s work, selected from his archive of more than 200,000 images, goes on display at Salts Mill.

Says Beesley: “In 2022 my exhibition Life: A Retrospective opened at Salts Mill. The response was phenomenal - in 10 weeks over 38,000 people visited the show. It was supposed to be my swan song.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Shipley Fields Horse Fair, 1977Shipley Fields Horse Fair, 1977

"Two years later I’m still getting calls from people who saw the exhibition, wanting to tell me stories about family members featured, tales of their own experiences of working in industries long gone, playing in streets long demolished and enquiring if I'd ever photographed this mill or that factory.

"Nearly everyone ends by asking ‘When’s the next exhibition? Are you doing another book?’ And goes on!”

Life Goes On features key areas of Beesley’s practice including the decline of heavy industry and its impact on communities, as well as some of the most affecting images he's ever taken. One photograph, of an elderly lady called Dolly holding a photo of an infant, struck a chord with more than one million people on X (formerly Twitter).

Dolly was in Lancaster Moor Psychiatric Hospital for having an illegitimate child in her early teens. She never left and died about a year after Beesley photographed her in 1996.

He says: “I have never forgotten Dolly. I knew putting her picture on the wall of Salts Mill and telling her story would have an impact, but I could never have imagined the power of showing the world this picture.

"People from around the globe, including many who've worked in psychiatric institutions, contacted me, sharing their own experiences and those of their families, sharing the horror of Dolly’s situation. This is the power of photography.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Dollu, The Moor hospital moved people around the world Dollu, The Moor hospital moved people around the world (Image: Ian Beesley)

Other images on show include: Children playing the traditional game of Piggy in a Listerhills street: “When I graduated in 1977 I received a Kodak Scholarship for Social Documentation. I headed home to Bradford to photograph the North and the industries that made it.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Game of Piggy, Listerhills, 1970s - one of the photos in Life Goes On. Images: Ian Beesley

"I couldn’t afford a car so walked from my home in Eccleshill across the city looking for subjects to photograph. I shot in black and white not for aesthetic reasons, that’s all I could afford, I’ve since grown rather fond of monochrome.

"Street corners were always good locations where people would gather or children would play.

"This one really makes me smile.”

Corset shop window, Laisterdyke, 1978: “There used to be loads of places like this. Actual local shops. Amazon was just the name of a faraway river.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Corset shop window in Laisterdyke Corset shop window in Laisterdyke (Image: Ian Beesley)

Card Fettlers at a Thackley mill: “With the demise of traditional industry many local dialect words peculiar to trades and industries have vanished from our vocabularies: the jobs are extinct and so are the words to describe them.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Card fettlers at Brackendale Mills, ThackleyCard fettlers at Brackendale Mills, Thackley (Image: Ian Beesley)

George 'the lion' Ellis, one of the last world champion Knur&Spel players:  “I love this portrait – the bleak moor light, the drystone walling, the outfit as worn by The Lion. He was magic.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: George 'the lion' Ellis George 'the lion' Ellis (Image: Ian Beesley)

  •  Life Goes On is at Gallery 2, Salts Mill, April 26 to January 2025. Visit