27 April 2024 to 31 January 2025

Life Goes On – The New Exhibition by Ian Beesley, Whose Fans Won’t Let Him Retire – Opening at Salts Mill on April 27th

This April, acclaimed Bradfordian social documentary photographer Ian Beesley turns 70. He has spent the last 5 decades documenting life in the North of England. He had planned to retire this year. Instead, the appetite for his work is stronger than ever. So on April 27 a previously unseen selection of Beesley’s work selected from his archive of over 200,000 images goes on show at Salts Mill, Saltaire.

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

But 2 years later I’m still getting messages and calls from people who saw the exhibition and or bought the book wanting to tell me stories about family members that are featured, tales of their own experiences of working in industries long gone, playing in streets long since demolished and tentatively enquiring if I had ever photographed this mill or that factory.

Nearly everyone ends by asking ‘When’s the next exhibition, are you doing another book?’ And so … Life goes on!” – Ian Beesley.

The new exhibition ‘Life Goes On’ will feature key areas of Beesley’s practice including the decline of heavy industry in the North and its impact on individuals and communities, as well as some of the most affecting images he has ever taken.

One particular photograph of a lady called Dolly holding an image of a young child has struck a chord with over 1 million people on the platform X. Dolly was incarcerated in Lancaster Moor Psychiatric Hospital for having an illegitimate child in her early teens. She never left the institution and died about a year after Beesley photographed her in 1996. Beesley comments,

“I have never forgotten Dolly and the other inmates of the Moor. 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 all around the globe, including many who have worked in psychiatric institutions, have contacted me about Dolly: sharing their own experiences and those of their families, sharing the horror of Dolly’s situation, or simply sharing their sorrow. This is the power of photography. It’s very humbling to be able to tell these stories.”

Beesley’s long-time collaborator, the poet Ian McMillan, has written Life Goes On  to honour his friends’ achievement. The poem is below.

LIFE GOES ON by Ian McMillan

Here, in the darkroom, and here

In the frozen air that waits

To be an image and here, in a file

Of photographs of places

Long forgotten, demolished, and here

In the eyes of those whose stories

Are told in this black and this white

And here, in the hope that this

Exposure can change the way

Someone thinks about something

Or someone and here, in the gleam

Of this landscape’s sunlight

Captured forever, unchanging,

And here, as the light fades

Across a factory floor on that last day

And here in the way that this

Smile can be a memory that’s

Otherwise slipped and fallen over

And here on the face of this baby

On her first day, her first beautiful day,

Life goes on.


The exhibition ‘Life Goes On’ will be on show in Gallery 2, Salts Mill until January 2025. Admission free.

You can find out more information about the exhibition and Salts Mill here: https://www.saltsmill.org.uk/



Photo credit: Dolly, Lancaster Moor Hospital, 1996 - Ian Beesley



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