Phyllis Nicklin was a geography tutor at the University of Birmingham Department of Extra Mural Studies during the 1950s and 60s. She died in post in 1969. During the 50s and 60s she took hundreds of Kodachrome slides of the city for use as teaching aids. These images now belong to the University of Birmingham.
Nicklin’s photographs provide a unique and intimate view of the city in a critical period of transition. They document Birmingham’s buildings, urban topography and street scenes and offer a fascinating comparative insight into how the city has changed and developed in the last half century.
In addition to their local historical significance, Nicklin’s photographs represents a major body of work by a largely unknown woman photographer comparable in terms of its significance and quality with that of more well-known photographers of the period such as Shirley Baker.
In 2003 a selection of 446 of her images were scanned a placed online. This led to the re-discovery of her work and a small cult following among photographers and local historians. They also led to a call for the remainder of her unseen work to be scanned and made available to the public and researchers.
In 2014, David Oram, from the University of Birmingham, who also runs the hugely popular Brumpic social media feeds discovered the remaining slides and began to digitise them all with a view to making them more accessible.
The entire archive includes photographs taken across the city and many taken in what is now the Colmore Business District.
In October 2016, Colmore BID presented a number of Phyllis’ images on a lit display in Snow Hill Square. The exhibition ran until the end of January 2016 and was enjoyed by commuters and those who had fond memories of the city at the time of the photos.
However, Colmore BID wanted to ensure that we did more than just put on a fantastic display of culture. In addition to the exhibition, we arranged a talk, by LoB Head of Photography Pete James, and lunchtime session on taking photographs like Phyllis Nicklin, led by local urban photographers. Both of these were exclusively for employees in the District.
We also worked with the Birmingham Post to create a special pullout under the #NicklinUnseen hashtag appealing for people’s memories of the images on display. The project inspired local artist Reuben Colley, who has a gallery located on Colmore Row, to curate an exhibition of paintings, based on Nicklin’s work, called Nicklin Revisited.
A short documentary film about Phyllis Nicklin’s life and work was also produced. This was premiered at our closing event at Hotel du Vin on 27 January 2016.
In November 2016, #NicklinUnseen won the national Place Marketing – Large Location BID Award