Obituary: Ken Griffiths

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Words by Billie Jenkins Image courtesy of the Ken Griffiths Estate

This week saw the death of incredible photojournalist and advertising artist Ken Griffiths. Aged 69, he passed after a long battle with motor neurone disease. Griffiths leaves a rich legacy that includes such diverse highlights as the controversial replacement of Christ the Reedemer with Ronaldo for the Brazil World Cup, to portraits closer to life, such as the one depicting Smithfield’s market butchers featured above.

Many will recognise much of his work instantly, his success in the field of advertising led him to work with many household names, his long client list including BT, British Airways, MG motors, Pirelli and Vogue. Yet it was his less commercial projects that really mark him out as one of the great, modern photographers. His portraits include the likes of Keith Richards and Lucian Freud. In the late eighties he was one of only a handful of photographers placed on a permanent staff contract at The Times, and was asked to travel and capture the events of world, which led him to the heights of Arizona landscapes, the lows of Cambodian war zones.

His most famous works include the wonderful story of East Sussex couple the Sweetmans. Photographed each month in their garden over a a year. The series made national news for the allegedly sorrowful lack of Mrs Sweetman in the final still, earning great exposure for Griffiths, despite the fact Mrs Sweetman was in fact not dead as the tabloids had assumed, but visible in the kitchen window too cold to leave the house. The Dossers was another stand out collection, documenting the homeless community established around London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields, in a boldly sympathetic way.

The death of Griffiths marks the death of an older style of photojournalism, naive to the internet, and with a very different concept of the publics consumption of the image in mind when the shutter is pressed. Using a printing technique called Carbro printing, that had been almost untouched for 100 years when he began working, and carrying a whole plate camera under his arm for much of his work, he is firmly of the old school. A talent of an era that will be sorely missed.

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