Black Victorians

Review: Photography

Black Chronicles II

Rivington Place, London till 29 Nov 2014.

downpage_3043500cThis a photography exhibition that has to be seen in the flesh to be appreciated. The basis for the exhibition is the unearthing of photographs that have not been seen for far too many years.

The researchers have done a great job of identifying most of the subjects. The main room has huge portraits printed from the original negatives. The people are from an African choir on tour in Britain between 1891-93.

These images are just so beautiful and majestic. They have been printed super large and each person is represented by two different portraits.

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Often when museums take photographs and blow them up for exhibition, the resulting images lose all their integrity. Usually I would argue that photographs need to be seen in their original format so that you can appreciate them as an artifact. In this case the strength of the personalities involved has been enhanced through the enlargements which have been done with much love and attention to detail. The impact when you walk into the room is very powerful.

In the upper room, the curators have borrowed a large number of CDVs from a number of collections. These have exhibited as CDVs and in this case having them as the original artifact is their strength. One can imagine holding these small images and being impressed by their beauty.

The CDVs have been arranged around the walls and require time to look into each one and appreciate the significance of the sitters.

In tables along the room are the original catalogues of the photographs downstairs. The catalogues are showing their age but it is a great thing to see them as original artifacts.

Untitled4_280_432_80_sThe point made by the researchers and curators is how the faces of these people have been so easily written out of our collective (white) history. These people were around in Victorian times and had a presence. They did not just arrive in the last decade or two and so we need to revisit our histories to ensure that we are far more inclusive.

One annoying point was that the upstairs room had a loud audio playing of a speech by Stuart Hall – to whom the exhibition was dedicated.

Untitled6_280_455_80_sStuart Hall died earlier in the year and his speech is definitely worth listening to. I did this after I had made my way around. Many wise words and often quite amusing.

But to have this audio playing at you while you were trying to engage with the numerous small CDVs around the room was annoying. I think there was a better way of doing this.

If you are in London and have not seen this exhibition – get on your bike and see it. Now!

Here’s the official website – click here

Here’s a few more photos – click here.

Recommendation: Rating 9/10

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Paul Costigan.

 

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