Looking for THE GIRL ON A SPACEHOPPERWhat the iconic photograph The Girl On A Spacehopper means to you

A brand new community project from AmberSideSummer 2020

Newcastle gallery and cultural collective AmberSide are reaching out to the public in May and June as part of a new community project celebrating the legacy of northeast photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s famous photograph The Girl On A Spacehopper.

The Girl On A Spacehopper encapsulates the spirit of the North East. Taken in 1971, the renowned black and white image depicts a child on a cobbled Byker back lane, captured in mid-air on her spacehopper, wearing a glittering party dress and with her long hair flying in a joyous abandon.

Since Sirkka captured the moment, as part of her documentation of Byker, the image has travelled around the world, becoming an enduring expression of childhood freedom and the changes which were happening to the close Newcastle community.

In 2016 The Girl On A Spacehopper formed part of an exhibition of Sirkka’s work at Tate Modern in London, where the Byker work is now a part of their permanent collection. All her other projects, including Byker, are housed in the AmberSide Collection.

Girl on ‘Spacehopper’, Byker, 1971

As the photograph heads towards its 50th year, AmberSide are hard at work on a new project based around the image and its legacy. This includes a new documentary film looking for the actual child captured in the photograph, after several women have believed to have been her, and also looking at the power of a photograph to capture who we would like to be.

As part of the activities during a summer impacted by COVID-19 AmberSide wants to hear from the public what the image means to them, how it has inspired them and what it says about them.

Laura Laffler of AmberSide says: 

“The Girl On A Spacehopper is an iconic image and reflects so much about what it means to live in the north east of England. At a time when we are reflecting on what life and community means to us we want to hear from the public about what Sirkka’s photograph inspires in them, or the memories it sparks.

We’ll be including many of these stories and submissions in our forthcoming exhibition project around the new film, so whether its written word, recorded responses, poetry, photography, music or moving image – we want to hear from the public what this enduring image says to them and how they express its spirit in their own lives.”

When she captured the image Finnish-born photographer Sirkka was hard at work documenting the people and places of her beloved adopted home Byker, just as it was due to be demolished to make space for the Byker Wall Estate development:

“I remember the moment well. This feisty young girl bounced past me on a back lane in Byker where I lived. She was wearing her mother’s sequined dress tied with a velvet sash, her long hair flying. I don’t know who the girl was. Many times we’ve come close to finding out and maybe as part of this project we will solve the mystery. I can’t wait.”

Throughout the summer AmberSide will be collecting the responses to The Girl On A Spacehopper in readiness for a new exhibition later in the year. The new film Looking for the Girl On A Spacehopper will be completed by 2021 and a date for the exhibition will be announced in coming months. 

Earlier this year a newly-discovered video of Sirkka working in Byker from the BBC’s Nationwide programme in 1974 resurfaced and was uploaded to social media by the BBC.  So far it has been viewed over 600,000 times on Facebook and over 200.000 times on Twitter.

The Girl On A Spacehopper image was uploaded to Instagram by the Tate and received over 22.000 likes in just two days. 

Actress Charlie Hardwick has lent her support to the campaign submitting an audio monologue about what the image means to her.

How does the spirit of this photograph manifest itself in your life?

If you would like to share your words or photographs, videos, voice recordings or anything else, please send it to AmberSide at spacehopper@amber-online.com. Any submissions may play a part in the unfolding and ongoing story of the Girl On A Spacehopper and possibly be shared in the film and in an exhibition at the Side Gallery.

This project is generously Supported by Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland and Arts Council England