“High Street Kensington,” from the series “On a Good Day.” (The Estate of Al Vandenberg/Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

“Self-Portrait in Mirror,” London, 1964, gelatin silver print. (Armet Francis/Victoria and Albert, London)

The prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum in London has been combing through the Black Cultural Archive for collections by significant black British photographers and artists who have documented several decades’ worth of black British life. The result of the massive undertaking is an exhibition, “Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s,” an expansive and necessary project aimed at increasing the visibility of black life and recognizing the societal impact that black British photographers have had on British culture.

A welcome platform for showcasing the power of native black Britons to capture their culture through their own lens, the exhibit is part of a larger effort by the museum to bring greater awareness of the contribution made by black British photographers to British society. Photos were obtained in conjunction with the Black Cultural Archives, founded in 1981 in the U.K. and whose mission is to “collect, preserve and celebrate the heritage and history of Black people in Britain.”

Among the photographers included in the exhibit is Dennis Morris, whose prolific and profound images of 1960s and ’70s black life in the London borough of Hackney revealed the heart, soul and indomitable cool of a demographic that had previously been neglected. There’s also Norman Anderson, who adopted the moniker “Normski,” documented the emerging hip hop and street style scenes in Britain during the ’90s. And there are powerhouses like J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere and his intimate portraits of women, Ingrid Pollard and her colorful documentation of people across the diaspora posed against various wild landscapes, and Neil Kenlock and his photos of British Caribbean people at home in the 1970s.

The exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum started in February and runs to May 24. A concurrent exhibit at the Black Cultural Archives that began in January runs to June 15.


“HD-55774 (Beri Beri),” from the series “Hairstyles,” gelatin silver print, Nigeria, 1974. (The Estate of J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere/Victoria and Albert, London)

A black-and-white photograph of an African woman seen from the back wearing an elaborate head tie, by J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, from the series “Headties.” (The Estate of J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere/Victoria and Albert, London)

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“Untitled {Young woman seated on the floor at home in front of her television set},” London, 1972. (Neil Kenlock/Victoria and Albert, London)

Normski, “African Homeboy – Brixton, London, 1987,” printed 2011. (Normski/Victoria and Albert, London)

Yinka Shonibare, “Diary of a Victorian Dandy.” (Yinka Shonibare / Victoria and Albert, London)