Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience

Working in partnership with Black Cultural Archives, we identified and acquired photographs taken by black photographers, or which document the lives of black people in Britain, taken between the 1950s – 90s.

The aim of the seven-year collaboration was to raise awareness of the contribution of black Britons to British culture and society, as well as to the art of photography. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), we have acquired 118 works by 17 artists. To complement the photographs, Black Cultural Archives collected oral histories from some of the photographers, their relatives, and the people depicted in the images.

Raphael Albert

Raphael Albert (1935 – 2009) was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada. After moving to London in the 1950s, he studied photography at Ealing Technical College whilst working part-time at Lyons cake factory. Albert then became a freelance photographer working for black British newspapers like West Indian World. He was often employed to take photographs of black British beauty pageants, and in 1974 he established the Miss Teenager and Miss West Indies in Great Britain contests. He organised and photographed pageants celebrating black British beauty throughout the 1960s and 1970s. A 2007 exhibition brought new appreciation of his work as a form of social documentation and a record of black British style. He remained committed to celebrating the Caribbean communities in his London area throughout his life, often taking home-studio portrait photographs for local people.

The Harder They Come from the portfolio Black Beauty Pageants, photograph by Raphael Albert, about 1970, England. Museum no. E.312-2013. © Raphael Albert/ Autograph ABP/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Jennie Baptiste

Photographer Jennie Baptiste was born in Northwest London in 1971, after her parents moved to the city from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia in the 1960s. She graduated from the London College of Communication Bachelor of Arts Photography course in 1994. Her photographs explore fashion and style as expressions of black British identity, often with a focus on music culture. She has photographed prominent hip hop artists such as P. Diddy, Jay Z and Mary J. Blige. Her work has been exhibited internationally and a selection of her photographs were included in the Black British Style exhibition held at the V&A in 2004.

Pinky, photograph by Jennie Baptiste, 2001, England. Museum no. E.970-2010. © Jennie Baptiste/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

James Barnor

James Barnor was born in Accra, Ghana in 1929. He began work as a photographer in Accra’s Jamestown district in 1947 where he set up the Ever Young studio, taking photographs of the local community. He also worked as a photojournalist for the Daily Graphic and Drum magazine, which led him to London in the 1960s. Beyond his studio photography and press commissions, Barnor also has an extensive archive of street reportage. After spending the 1960s in Britain, Barnor returned to Ghana at the end of the decade where he helped open the country’s first colour-processing laboratory. In 1993, after 24 years in Ghana, Barnor returned to London where he continues to live today. His varied body of photographic work documents the shift towards modern living as experienced by black people in both Africa and Britain.

Mike Eghan, Piccadilly Circus, photograph by James Barnor, 1967, England. Museum no. E.103-2012. © James Barnor/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Pogus Caesar

Born on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, photojournalist and television producer Pogus Caesar moved to Sparkbrook, Birmingham as a child. He began his career taking photographs of the local community. His visual record of the Birmingham area documents both prominent figures and historical events, including the brief, but significant period of social unrest in 1985 that became known as the Handsworth Riots. In the 1980s he became director of the West Midlands Ethnic Minority Arts service and was also the first Chairman of Birmingham International Film & Television Festival. He worked in television during the 1980s, producing and directing a wide variety of programmes, often with a multicultural focus. He started his own production company, Windrush Productions in 1993. In 2004 Caesar established OOM Gallery which houses his photographic archives.

Underside of overturned car with two men walking past from the series Handsworth Riots, photograph by Pogus Caesar, 1985, England. Museum no. E.1200-2012. © Pogus Caesar/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Armet Francis

Born in 1945, Armet Francis spent the early years of his life in the rural community of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. He lived with his grandparents until he moved to Britain at the age of ten to join his parents who were living in London. While still in his teens Francis worked as an assistant for a West End photographic studio. He then worked as a freelance photographer for fashion magazines and advertising campaigns.

Francis became interested in representations of the black Diaspora on a global scale and began his cross-cultural project The Black Triangle, in which he photographed black people in Britain, Africa, America and the Caribbean. He was the first black photographer to have a solo exhibition at The Photographers' Gallery when The Black Triangle series was exhibited there in 1983.

During the 1980s Francis also became actively involved in supporting the practice of black photography in Britain. He was part of the exhibition Reflections of the Black Experience - 10 Black Photographers at Brixton Art Gallery in 1986 and co-founded The Association of Black Photographers (now Autograph ABP) in 1988. Francis was recognised as a significant black British photographer of the post-war period in The Museum of London's exhibition Roots to Reckoning (2005 – 2006), which also featured work by his contemporaries Charlie Phillips and Neil Kenlock.

Fashion Shoot, Brixton Market, photograph by Armet Francis, 1973, England. Museum no. E.106-2013. © Armet Francis/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Colin Jones

Colin Jones was born in London in 1936 and grew up in the East End. He was a dancer with the English Royal Ballet when he began taking photographs of the company in the 1960s. He then became a photographer for The Observer in 1962 and produced a series of photographs recording mining communities in the North East of England. In 1966 he photographed the British rock band The Who at the beginning of their career. Jones was commissioned by the Sunday Times Magazine in 1973 to document the Islington-based Harambee housing project for young black people. He carried on taking photographs of the house and its inhabitants until 1976, creating The Black House series. The photographs, like much of his work, are a record of daily life within a marginalised community.

Untitled from the series The Black House, photograph by Colin Jones, 1973 – 6, England. Museum no. E.300-2013. © Colin Jones/ Autograph ABP/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Dennis Morris

Dennis Morris was born in Jamaica (in 1960) and moved to London as a child. He became interested in photography through the church, after joining a photographic club that had been set up for members of St. Marks Church choir. He had early success taking photographs of Bob Marley and the Wailers on their 1973 tour while still in his teens. Music continued to be a feature of his work, as he went on to photograph British punk group The Sex Pistols and became art director of Island Records in the late 1970s. Morris also made his own music as part of the punk and reggae fusion band, Basement Five. His personal photographs of British Caribbean community life in Hackney during the 1960s and 1970s came to form the series Growing Up Black, published in 2012.

George Jackson is dead, Grosvenor Square from the series Growing Up Black, photograph by Dennis Morris, 1971, England. Museum no. E.1487-2010. © Dennis Morris/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Neil Kenlock

Neil Kenlock was born in 1950 and grew up in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He lived with his grandmother until 1963 when he moved to London to join his parents, who were living in Brixton. In 1973, having worked for photographic studios, Kenlock became a staff photographer for one of the first black British newspapers, West Indian World. He was also involved with the British Black Panther movement, taking photographs of the group's activism to improve the rights of the black British community. His photographs of British Caribbean people at home in this period convey a similar sense of black British pride. In 1979 he co-founded Root magazine, a modern publication targeted at the black British community. He continued to promote black British culture, becoming an early member of the Association of Black Photographers (now Autograph ABP) and co-founding Choice FM in 1990; London's first legal radio station devoted to black urban music.

Untitled - young lady points to 'Keep Britain White' graffiti at the International Personnel training centre in Balham, photograph by Neil Kenlock, 1974, England. Museum no. E.217-2012. © Neil Kenlock/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Normski

Norman 'Normski' Anderson was born in Northwest London in 1966 to Jamaican parents. He was bought his first camera by his mother at an auction when he was nine years old. His interest in photography was partly inspired by the black British filmmaker and photographer Horace Ove, as he was childhood friends with his son Zak. In 1985 he studied photographic laboratory skills at Kingsway Princeton College in Clerkenwell, London. He then worked at a number of photographic studios while still in his teens and became a freelance photographer at the age of 18.

He was part of the emerging hip hop music scene during the 1980s and adopted the nickname 'Normski' whilst on a trip to New York. His involvement in the music culture led him to photograph hip hop artists and fashions for publications like The Face, i-D and Vogue, whilst also creating publicity photographs for the musicians themselves. Normski worked as a DJ and television presenter for programmes like Dance Energy on BBC2 in the early 1990s, during which he took photographs of the visiting artists. In the 1990s he began to exhibit his work and collaborated with the retailer Four Star General to recreate hip hop looks for the V&A exhibition Streetstyle, From Sidewalk to Catwalk, 1940 to Tomorrow (1994 – 5).

Cynthia M Prescod (Mum) at Home in Primrose Hill, London, photograph by Normski, 1986, England. Museum no. E.108-2012. © Normski/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere

J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere (1930 – 2014) was born in the village of Ovbiomu-Emai in south-western Nigeria. By the age twenty he was one of the only photographers in his region. He became a darkroom assistant for the Ministry of Information in Ibadan in 1954, where he worked until 1961. He later worked as a photographer for Africa's first television station, The Western Nigerian Broadcasting Services, and for West African Publicity in Lagos from 1963 – 75. Ojeikere became a member of the Nigeria Art Council in 1967. He travelled across Nigeria with the council and began to document Nigerian culture, beginning a series of photographs documenting Nigerian hairstyles in 1968. Over the course of his life Ojeikere recorded more than a thousand hairstyles, as well as traditional headties. The series of photographs, which includes both popular and ceremonial styles, is of historic and anthropological significance, as well as aesthetic value.

HD-849/75 (Abebe) from the series Hairstyles, photograph by J. D. 'Okhai Ojeikere, 1975, Nigeria. Museum no. E.231-2013. © The Estate of J. D. 'Okhai Ojeikere/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Charlie Phillips

Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1944, Roland 'Charlie' Phillips grew up with his grandparents in St. Mary. He moved to Britain in 1956 to live with his parents in Notting Hill. He began to document life in the local community, taking photographs with a Kodak Brownie camera he had been given by a black American serviceman. Phillips became a freelance photographer and worked for magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, Stern and Life. He briefly worked in the Merchant Navy and travelled Europe in the late 1960s while involved with protest movements. After living in Italy and Switzerland, he returned to London in 1973 and opened Smokey Joe's Diner in Wandsworth in 1989. His photographs of people and places associated with Notting Hill depict both significant and everyday moments in the area's history, particularly in relation to its growing black population. They were recognised in the 1990s with the publication Notting Hill in the Sixties (1991) and as part of the Museum of London exhibition Roots to Reckoning (2005).

Vin in Chair, photograph by Charlie Phillips, 2002, England. Museum no. E.263-2011. © Charlie Phillips/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Ingrid Pollard

Ingrid Pollard was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1953 and moved to England when she was four years old. Since then she has lived in London working as a photographer, printer, media artist and researcher. She is a graduate of the London College of Printing and Derby University. In the 1980s she was part of a group of black British women artists who exhibited their work together in exhibitions like The Thin Black Line at the ICA in 1985. Pollard was also part of significant collaborative ventures between black British photographers, including Polareyes, D-Max and the Association of Black Photographers (now Autograph ABP), of which she was a founding member.

Pollard became interested in photography when she took her father's box camera on a camping trip. Some of her first photographs were of the sewage works and wood yards along the Lee Valley Canal, taken as part of an O-Level geography project. Pollard defines her work as "a social practice concerned with representation, history and landscape with reference to race, difference and the materiality of lens based media". Her photographic series such as Pastoral Interlude (1988) and Self Evident (1995) depict black figures in rural landscape settings.

From the series Self Evident, photograph by Ingrid Pollard, 1995, England. Museum no. E.322-2013. © Ingrid Pollard/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Syd Shelton

Syd Shelton was born in Pontefract, South Yorkshire in 1947. He studied painting at Leeds College of Art before becoming a photographer and graphic designer. He moved to London in the 1960s and then travelled to Sydney, Australia in 1972 to pursue his growing interest in photography. While in Australia Shelton worked as a photojournalist and began to exhibit his work. After returning to London in 1976 he became involved with Rock Against Racism, a collective of political activists and musicians that organised concerts across the country with an anti-racist message. He documented the organisation's efforts as their official photographer. He also established the design partnership Hot Pink Heart/Red Wedge Graphics with Ruth Gregory during this period. Shelton edited and was the art director of a number of photographic books in the 1980s including Day in the Life of London (1984). He is based in Hove where he runs a graphic design company graphicsci.

Fans at The Northern Carnival Against Racism during The Specials' set, Potternewton Park, Leeds, photograph by Syd Shelton, 1981, England. Museum no. E.319-2013. © Syd Shelton/ Autograph ABP/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) works across a range of artistic mediums including sculpture, painting, photography and film. Born in London in 1962, Shonibare spent the majority of his childhood in his parents' birthplace of Lagos, Nigeria before returning to London at the age of seventeen. He attended Byam Shaw School of Art (now part of Central Saint Martins) and Goldsmiths College in the late 1980s, becoming part of the generation of Young British Artists (YBAs).

Shonibare's work engages with his cross-cultural heritage, challenging definitions of national identity and history. He is known for his playful use of brightly patterned Dutch wax textiles, often made into period costumes for headless mannequins which are posed to act out satirical tableaux. Colonialism and the visual traditions associated with it are subverted in his work. In 2010, when asked to make a temporary work for Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth, he created a small scale replica of Nelson's flagship, HMS victory, made with colourful batik sails and placed it inside a giant glass bottle.

His work in photography also mimics historic artistic traditions in unexpected ways. The Diary of a Victorian Dandy series plays on Hogarth's A Rake's Progress through the lens of a modern costume drama. The figure of the dandy, which is played by Shonibare himself, reflects on his 'outsider' status as a black, disabled artist.

His work has been exhibited internationally and he was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2004. He currently lives and works in the East End of London.

Diary of a Victorian Dandy: 14.00 hours from the series Diary of a Victorian Dandy, photograph by Yinka Shonibare, 1998. Museum no. E.236-2013. © Yinka Shonibare/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Al Vandenberg

Born to Dutch parents, Al Vandenberg (1932 – 2012) grew up near Boston, USA with an English foster family. He served in the Korean War as part of the American military and later attended art school in Boston and New York. Having studied photography alongside Bruce Davidson, Alexey Brodovitch and Richard Avedon, Vandenberg became a successful commercial photographer and art director working in both New York and London during the 1960s. In 1967 he was involved in the art direction of The Beatles' Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. After a period of travelling, Vandenberg settled in London in 1974 with the aim of using his photographic skills to create portraits of city life without a commercial agenda. He continued to travel in later life, creating street portraits in America, South East Asia and China alongside his photographs of Londoners taken throughout the 1970s and 80s.

Untitled, from the series On a Good Day, photograph by Al Vandenberg, 1970s, UK. Museum no. E.423-2010. © The Estate of Al Vandenberg / Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Maxine Walker

Born in 1962, British Jamaican photographer Maxine Walker lives and works in Birmingham. Her photographs raise questions about the nature of identity, challenging racial stereotypes. She contests photography's documentary ability by replicating specific photographic styles, such as in her early series Auntie Linda’s House (1987). Her Black Beauty series from the 1980s and her Untitled series for the Self Evident exhibition in 1995 both utilise self-portraiture.

Maxine Walker, from the series Untitled, photograph by Maxine Walker, 1995. Museum no. E.304-2013. © Maxine Walker / Autograph ABP/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Gavin Watson

Gavin Watson was born in London in 1965 and grew up on a council estate in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. He bought a Hanimex camera from Woolworths in his early teens and began to take photographs. Upon leaving school at the age of sixteen, Watson moved back to London and became a darkroom assistant at Camera Press. He continued to photograph his younger brother Neville and their group of skinhead friends in High Wycombe.

The 'Wycombe Skins' were part of the working-class skinhead subculture brought together by a love of ska music and fashion. Although skinhead style had become associated with the right-wing extremism of political groups like the National Front in the 1970s, Watson's photographs document a time and place where the subculture was racially mixed and inclusive. His photographs were published in the books Skins (1994) and Skins and Punks (2008), and the director Shane Meadows cited them as an inspiration for his film This is England (2006). In 2011 and 2012 Watson photographed campaigns for Dr Martens and began a project with the singer Plan B.

Micklefield, photograph by Gavin Watson, 1981, England. Museum no. E.362-2011. © Gavin Watson / Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Discover more about our Photographs collection.

Background image: Bagga, vocalist with Matumbi, Hackney, London, photograph by Syd Shelton, 1978, England. Museum no. E.318-2013.© Syd Shelton/ Autograph ABP/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.