As Black History month commences, independent charity The Art Fund
announces the Museum of London's acquisition of an important photographic archive charting London's Afro-Caribbean history. The 'Roots to Reckoning archive' comprises 90 photographs of London's black community in the 1960s - 80s by three leading Jamaican-born photographers, Armet Francis, Charlie Philips and Neil Kenlock.
Earlier this year, new prints from the original negatives were produced by the Museum of London and these have now been acquired from the photographers for a total of £23,625, of which The Art Fund contributed £7,875.
The photographs were first displayed together in 2005 at the Museum of Londons Roots to Reckoning exhibition, which celebrated the pioneering work of all three photographers and highlighted how they helped shape a sense of identity for black Londoners. The works were also published in the accompanying catalogue.
Andrew Macdonald, Acting Director of The Art Fund, said: "With its snapshots of carnival performers and pop stars, priests and protestors, children and students, the Roots to Reckoning archive charts the activity, energy and vibrancy of Londons Afro-Caribbean community over a period of great change. It is wonderful news that the Museum of London has acquired the collection, allowing visitors to enjoy and learn from the full scope of these images, in the city they were created."
Mike Seaborne, Senior Curator of Photographs at Museum of London, said: "Many of these photographs were taken in the sixties, seventies and early eighties and have never really been shown to the public in any substantial way, other than our 2005 exhibition. They are a key record of London and particularly Afro-Caribbean Londoners and thus act both as an historical witness as well as recognition of a fundamental part of London culture. This is why we have chosen some of the images to hang in our new Galleries of Modern London opening in Spring 2010."
Charlie Phillips (b.1944)
Ronald Charlie Phillips was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He lived with his grandparents in a Catholic household before moving to London to join his parents in 1956.
Charlies photographic career began when he was given a camera by an American G. I. Having taught himself, he began to photograph for magazines such as Harpers Bazaar, Life and Italian Vogue. Throughout the 1960s he documented aspects of urban life in Notting Hill and the shifts taking place in the cultural landscape, including racial integration and the birth of Carnival. He also photographed iconic black figures including Muhammad Ali, Teddy Taylor and Omar Sherif.
Following a spell in the merchant navy, Charlie became caught up in the 1960s protest movements, travelling to Sweden, Switzerland, Paris and Rome, where he photographed student riots and film stars. He lived in Italy for several years, working as a paparazzo photographer, but returned to London, where he fell into a bohemian life of squats and pop festivals. In 1989 he left Notting Hill to open Smokey Joes Diner in Wandsworth.
During these years Charlie abandoned photography, discouraged by the lack of recognition. However, he has recently picked up a camera again and is pursuing a life-long fascination with the sea through his routes and roots project. In 2007 four of his Notting Hill photographs were included in the major Tate Britain exhibition, How We Are, which examined the role played by photography in the development of British visual culture.
Armet Francis (b. 1945)
Armet Francis was born in St Elizabeth, Jamaica, a rural community. His parents moved to London when he was three, leaving him with his grandparents. He next saw his parents seven years later when he joined them in London.
Armet left school aged 14 to work for an engineering firm in Bromley. An accident at work led to a change of career and his finding a job assisting in a West End photographic studio. For the next 15 years he worked his way up to becoming a professional photographer, specializing in advertising and fashion work.
In 1969 Armet, by now a freelancer, returned to Jamaica to pursue a growing interest in the land of his birth. There he conceived his Children of the Black Triangle project, a personal exploration of the African Diaspora. In 1983 his Black Triangle photographs were exhibited at the Photographers Gallery, the first solo exhibition at this prestigious venue by an African-Caribbean photographer. A subsequent touring exhibition was sent to the USA.
More recently Armet has worked on educational projects, including a series of digitally manipulated photographs of spectators at Notting Hill Carnival.
Neil Kenlock (b. 1950)
Neil Kenlock was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He lived with his grandmother until 1963 when he joined his parents, who he scarcely knew, in Brixton.
Neil began to use a camera whilst at school in Tulse Hill and on leaving set up as a freelance photographer. He also became politicized at this time and joined the Black Panther Movement, for which he was the official photographer. In 1973 he became the staff photographer on the weekly newspaper Westindian World and in 1975 his photographs were exhibited at the Jamaican High Commission. They were also used in evidence at the Old Bailey, during the trial of the 'Carib 12', to discredit the police version of events.
In 1979 Neil co-founded Root Magazine the first glossy magazine for African Caribbean Londoners. His career moved towards the business side of publishing and, following the sale of the magazine in 1987, turned his entrepreneurial skills to radio. In 1990 he co-founded Choice FM, Londons first legal radio station devoted to black urban music.