Friday, 31 July 2020

Charlie Phillips: Photographing the Lives of Black Londoners

"His most iconic photograph of the period depicts a mixed-race Notting Hill Couple, taken almost a decade after the violent attacks. The intimate picture of a young pair conveys warmth, love and defiance. When understood in the racialised political context of the time, the image takes on a more complex meaning, especially since the Notting Hill riots had started with an assault on a Swedish woman who married to a Caribbean man — attacked for being in a mixed-race relationship." (via)

In 1956, Charlie Phillips was a teenager when he moved to London with his family from Jamaica. The British government had asked people from former colonies to rebuild the so-called mother country after the Second World War. Many of them - including Charlie's family - settled in North Kensington, Notting Hill, and Ladbroke Grove (via).

"I remember I came in late August. I found I couldn't walk barefoot. I couldn't go out in the garden."
During a time of changes and adjustment, Charlie Phillips got his first camera, a Kodak Brownie, which was given to him by a US-American serviceman stationed in the U.K. Overlooked for a long time in which his work was hardly noticed and he struggled to publish his pictures, his photographs are now "celebrated for sensitively and insightfully documenting the cultural landscape of black Britain in the post-war period: a time when the struggle for civil rights, justice, and equality was particularly hard-fought. Phillips continued hoping to pass down this document to his children (via).
The borough of North Kensington, where Phillips spent much of his youth, had high rates of poverty, crime and violence in the 1950s. People had been attracted from the West Indies by the promise of good jobs and homes, but the post-war period saw London plunged into a housing and employment crisis. Large numbers of Afro-Caribbean Londoners struggled to make a living and were forced to live in crammed, slum-like conditions. This situation was made worse by structural racism: British society upheld an unofficial ‘Colour Bar’, a systematic exclusion of black people from certain public and private spaces.
Despite the fact that those who had arrived from the colonies had British passports and enjoyed the same legal rights as their white counterparts, black British citizens faced everyday racism, social injustices and widespread patterns of discrimination. (...)
Captivated by his surroundings and profoundly influenced by the Notting Hill "riots", Phillips spent the best part of the 1960s and 1970s photographing the experience of transatlantic migration in North Kensington. “I attended demonstrations and continued to show solidarity with different struggles,” Phillips recalls. “The 60s and 70s were very challenging. People had begun to ask questions. It was an era where you had to decide who you sympathised with.” (via)
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photographs via


  1. Hervé Massard31 July 2020 at 19:37

    Slightly different but interesting for the ones among us who wouldn’t know the skinhead culture was inspired and patronised by the Jamaicans your posting is referring to. The skinhead culture we generally know is a political turnover that has nothing to do with the original one.