Black Chronicles II @ Autograph ABP reviewed by Magali Avezou

images courtesy of Autograph ABP

Black Chronicles II is the first exhibition to be launched in conjunction with The Missing Chapter, a research project which seeks to explore the photographic narratives of migration and cultural diversity in relation to Britain’s colonial past. Presented by Autograph ABP – a foundation devoted to researching black narratives – the show displays more than 200 photographs exploring black identity in Victorian Britain.

The walls of the ground floor are painted black and display 55 images by the London Stereoscopic Company. These images are part of the Hulton Archive, a division of Getty Images. 30 portraits depict the Africa choir that toured Britain between 1891-93. On the second floor, over 100 cartes-de-visites picture visiting performers, dignitaries, servicemen, missionaries, and students. All the photographs were taken in England before 1938.

Among the images displayed are painterly black and white portraits showing very confident sitters. These images stand in stark contrast to the propaganda representations of black subjects which were prevalent before the 2nd world-war. The exhibition Bon Baiser des Colonies, showed at Les Rencontres d’Arles last summer – showed a very different representation of black people under colonial rule shot by French photographs at the beginning of the XIXth century in North-Africa and make for a striking contrast.

The portraits displayed in this exhibition are dignifying. The subjects are well dressed, some wearing suits and hats and others wearing luxurious African dress. They adopt confident postures, elegant gestures and self- contained gazes. These portraits were taken at a time in which studio portraiture was the preserve of a privileged minority. As argued by the curators Renée Mussai and Mark Sealy, this fact raises questions regarding the ideological conditions in which these images were produced and what messages they intend to communicate.

As stated in the press release, Black Chronicles II “redresses persistent ‘absence’ within the historical record.” Through displaying these images, the curators point to an alternative history of black identity and raising questions about the place of the subjects in the colonial order and in British society. The show and programme, is the beginning of an exciting task of research for historians to interpret this impressive material.

Image credit: London Stereoscopic Company studios, 1891. Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

securedownload 2Magali is a London-based arts professional specialising in photography. She holds degrees in History and History of Arts (DEA, Grenoble II France), Art Management (DESS, Paris X France) and Photography (MA, London College of Communication, UK). She is has worked for  for art magazines The Eyes and FIFA Annuel and held positions at Troika Editions, Payne||Shurvell and Koenig books. She is interested in philosophical and anthropological notions of displacement and exoticism and its representation in contemporary photography. 

A letter from the editor

Photography’s roots in the United Kingdom stretch back to early experimentations with the medium. Although it was a Frenchman, Nicéphore Niépce who was the first to capture an image on film, it was an Englishman, William Henry Fox Talbot who invented the calotype, a process which was a major forerunner to 19th century developments in the medium.

Fast forward a few centuries and the UK continues to be a fertile ground for developments in the medium. Admittedly, museums in the UK were sluggish in accepting photography as an art form, especially when compared with their American counterparts. However, in the last decade photography has won its hard-fought battle for institutional recognition in the UK. Tate Modern, for example, appointed its first ever Curator of Photography and International Art in 2009.

If we step outside the gallery space we see a similar trend in academia. In the past photography was little more than a footnote in most Art History courses in the UK. Yet today many Art History degrees offer photographic history modules and four universities in the UK now offer MA degrees specifically in The History of Photography.

Right, point made, photography is hotter than ever and LPD realises the craze isn’t confined to London. Yet, we felt it was important to narrow our focus to ensure that no stone is left unturned in bringing our readers the most up-to-date information.

In doing so we will be featuring all manner of photography exhibitions and events. This will include blockbuster shows but we also want to dig a little deeper to unearth the hidden gems. Many institutions for example draw on their permanent collections to create small displays. We also hope to keep our finger on the pulse of the latest work amongst emerging and graduate photographers.

We also want LPD to be a place where you can actually see what’s buzzing on the photography scene. Through a focus on image-sharing we envision LPD as both a textual and visual source of information. We hope to see LPD burgeon into a participatory hub where everyone can share their experiences of London’s photography scene.

Suffice to say, we’ve come a long way from Fox Talbot’s experimentations with the medium and as such LPD will be keeping tuned to photography’s expanding field. So if you have an event coming up that you feel fits the bill, send it our way!

That’s all for now.

Sarah Allen, Editor LPD