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Bluecoat Press : Mike Abrahams : This Was Then


Published by Bluecoat Press, This Was Then is the first career-spanning book by Mike Abrahams, one of the UK’s most significant documentary photographers. Shot across Britain over three decades, in the years before and after Margaret Thatcher’s time in government, This Was Then brilliantly captures seemingly small moments of everyday life that tell a far bigger story of Britain during this time. Abrahams’ photographs demonstrate his unerring ability to capture “ordinary people living extraordinary lives”.

Mike became a photographer after working for the ambulance service in Liverpool. Entering some of the last occupied homes in condemned streets proved a revelation and he returned with his camera, and some of these first images appear in This Was Then. Asked once why he takes photographs in black and white, Mike Abrahams explained: “I grew up in Liverpool in the 1950s and 60s, a city in which to my eyes, colour was absent.”

Abrahams started his career as a freelance photographer in 1975 and has worked regularly on assignments for many British, European and American magazines. In 1981 he was a co-founder of Network Photographers, the Internationally renowned picture agency and his work has taken him all around the world. Mike received a World Press Photo Award for Daily Life 2000 and has produced major bodies of work all around the world. Previously he has published three monographs and he has been exhibited internationally.

Still War, his collection of photographs from Northern Ireland was described by Colin Jacobson of The Independent Magazine as “documentary photography at its best – imaginative, comprehensive, confident and concerned.” These are qualities true of all his work in This Was Then. From children playing in front of armed soldiers in Belfast to daily life continuing amid the tenements of Glasgow and the demolished terraces of Liverpool to a chuckling policeman leading a racist march through the streets of south London, This Was Then delivers an unmissable, alternative vision of British life in the late 20th century.

As he writes in his introduction to This Was Then: “I was not interested in the fact that people threw stones, only in why they threw them.”

Taken between 1973 and 2001 his photographs are of ordinary lives lived, not newsworthy moments or depictions of celebrity and fashion. Resilience is a recurring theme in his work, people surviving, playing and laughing. Despite being taken decades ago, what we see is still common in Britain today – struggling communities marginalised by authority. There is little nostalgia or sentimentality about these photographs – they feel as potent and vital today as they did when taken.

As Mike says, “This was then, but it is also now.”


Mike Abrahams : This Was Then
Bluecoat Press
– Essay by Stephen Mayes
– First Edition
– Hardcover with tip-in
– 300x245mm
– 160 pages with over 100 images

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