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Please note: RPS House is closed for our exhibition install. We will be open again from 10am on Friday 9th August 2024.

Salford 2024 Portus 27 (2)

Phil Portus ARPS shines a light on portraits from the past

The RPS Associate revisits archive images of life in Salford first exhibited in 1977

‘The Paddock pub, Cross Lane, Salford, 1977’ by Phil Portus ARPS

In 1977 a 29-year-old photographer, Phil Portus, took to the streets of Salford in Greater Manchester to capture everyday scenes and vignettes of city life.

A member of the Reflex photography group, led by documentarian Diane Bush, Portus was keen to show an authentic view of local people.

The following year an exhibition of images produced by the Reflex group was displayed in Salford. It lasted just a week and soon after the group’s members embarked on their own, individual paths.

Recently, though, Portus, now the proud recipient of an RPS Associate Distinction, has been revisiting his archive. He has tracked down some of his subjects, photographing them again in the 21st century, more than 45 years after he first met them.

This is the story of two exhibitions almost five decades apart.

Salford 2024 Portus 51

‘Salford, 1977’ by Phil Portus ARPS

When did you get started in photography?

I’ve taken photographs since I was about 12 years old. When I graduated in geology from the University of Manchester in 1972 and got my first salaried job as a teacher, I could buy a house with an attic to use as a dark room. I started taking lots more 35mm images, mostly monochrome which I could process. Joining the Reflex group made me concentrate my efforts in 1977 on documentary photography. 

Tell us a little about the Reflex group.

I saw a poster in a radical book shop in Manchester, Grass Roots, asking for people to be part of a small group of photographers in the mid-to-late 70s called the Reflex group. We met up occasionally as a group in-between our individual Salford photo excursions.  I concentrated mainly on Langworthy, Ordsall, and some work in the Adelphi area. In 1978 we had a group exhibition held in the Salford Players Theatre on Liverpool Road. After the exhibition we all went our own ways. 

The aim was documentary photography within the Ordsall and Langworthy areas of Salford, looking at drastic urban change and the effect on the local population.

Phil Portus 2022 1
2012 Sandra Michelle B&W

Michelle Darby and Sandra Obuku, photographed in 1977 (top) and 2012 (bottom) by Phil Portus ARPS

What are your memories of the 1978 exhibition?

The four or five members of Reflex chose about half a dozen images each which we printed ourselves and displayed them on free-standing boards. The exhibition was in the main auditorium and only lasted about a week as it was a busy working theatre. Sadly, I don’t have any photos of the event.

How did you track down the children you had photographed?

I went to see a Redeye Photography Network event at Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester in 2012. Daniel Meadows, a photographer, documentarian and digital storyteller, was talking about finding people he photographed in Salford and Moss Side in the 70s. He got an article in the Manchester Evening News and people got in touch with him about being photographed. I went home and that evening wrote to the Salford Reporter and the Manchester Evening News. The next week, people I photographed in 1977 got in touch and with the help of Tony Flynn, a local media person and historian, I arranged to locate these people and interview them.

I was surprised to get a message from Stephen Lord the actor (Shameless, Eastenders), inviting me down to the Shameless set to talk to him about my project. I gave him a copy of the three lads picture which he was really pleased to have. Also, I found the two women in the two girls image – they hadn’t seen each other for 30 years. It was quite an emotional experience for all.

Actor Stephen Lord As A Child With Brother Anthony And Friend John Howells, Salford, 1977'
2012 Stephen Lord 3 Edit3

Stephen Lord, John Howells and Anthony Lord, photographed in 1977 (top) and 2012 (bottom) by Phil Portus ARPS

How did you select which images from the 70s to include in this year’s exhibition?

I must have taken over 200 images in 1977 but I have chosen about 100 which show the people in different settings; pubs, the fairground, the street, and images of the bleak demolition sites of the former thriving Victorian workers' terrace houses.

My favourite is the picture of Joe Hunter in the doorway of his lifetime home in Ordsall surrounded by boarded and bricked-up houses waiting to be demolished. In his window he had put a handwritten sign: 'This House is Occupied.' The other one I like is the two women in the Bricklayer’s Arms chatting away with a drink of stout.

Salford 2024 Portus 33

‘Salford, 1977’ by Phil Portus ARPS

Tell us about your involvement with the RPS and the role it has played throughout your career.

I joined the RPS in about 2000. I was a member of the South Manchester Camera Club and attained my Licentiate very quickly. I felt I was ready for Associate and successfully attained this with my musicians’ panel. I’m an amateur jazz pianist and have photographed many gigs and studio portraits of musicians. I have also helped with some RPS workshop events.

When I retired from being a geology and geography lecturer at a sixth form college in Stockport 18 years ago, I improved my wedding photography and studio portrait skills. In 2016, I started with another photographer documenting changes along Curry Mile in Rusholme, Manchester. Following a break due to Covid, we had a major exhibition at the Central Library. We also published a book and a zine about the project.

The exhibition Salford 77 by Phil Portus ARPS is at Langworthy Cornerstone Community Centre, Salford, 28 June-29 August 2024.