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Between Feeling and Time: Brent in the 80s and 90s

POSTED: 18 January 2021

Roy Mehta’s new photography book Revival captures the Afro-Caribbean and Irish communities of Brent. Mark Sealy reflects on what these images mean for us now

The front cover of Roy Mehta's book Revival: London 1989-1993. A person wearing a suit and hat looks directly at the camera.

The London Borough of Brent is one of the most diverse areas in the UK, with a rich history of multiculturalism. From 1989 – 1993, photographer Roy Mehta shot exquisite black and white photographs of the daily rituals of its Afro-Caribbean and Irish communities: at home, in the street and at church. These tender images move from profound moments of faith to quiet family moments and to the noisy city outside, each an opportunity for connection and reflection.

Mehta’s photographs of Brent have been published in a new book Revival: London 1989-1993, available now from Hoxton Mini Press. It’s a beautiful publication, one we highly recommend.

Autograph’s Director, Mark Sealy, first encountered these photographs in the early 90s, and a selection appeared in one of our early newsletters. Below, read from Sealy’s new text for Revival, reflecting on community, photography, and what Mehta’s images mean for us now.

A spread from Roy Mehta's book Revival: London 1989-1993. In each photograph two people smile whilst holding one another.
A spread from Roy Mehta's book Revival: London 1989-1993. Two people sit on a table eating food with two children.
"Mehta’s photographs work on the temporality of vision. This is because, as images, they seem to be locked in a double bind, caught up in the past and very much alive in our present. These photographs, therefore, function as calling cards to the way we were and ask us to reflect on what we have become. They work as powerful agents that challenge us to push back at time. They save us from the chaos of always moving on. They also do important other cultural work as they function as critical signs of kindness and acceptance.

Mehta’s work is a conversation being framed, and across this series, his subjects respond with an openness that emits the tenderness of familiarity. These photographs therefore celebrate the intimate and tactile nature of human relationships. They are calming reminders of what closeness can look like.

Mehta’s photographic praxis is grounded in a search for those elusive emotional states that make us, many of which will never be seen, but in looking with generosity, they may well be felt. The dynamic that Mehta brings to his way of looking helps us remember that silence has great value and that the idea of being at peace within the self is a fragile space that has to be valued and cared for with urgency. "
A person wearing a hat looks into the distance past the camera. There is a large window behind them.

"What emerges through the making of these photographs is an understanding of what is shared within a community rather than what divides it"

A group of people peer around a door frame.
"These photographs, as an offering to a community, invite us to share the atmosphere of a subject’s inner being. They are charged with signs of care, compassion and faith. It’s these three important elements that hold this body of work together. They are visible here as signs made manifest through gesture, style, and cherished objects.

What emerges through the making of these photographs is an understanding of what is shared within a community rather than what divides it: healing and embracing, taking the pain of the daily strain away through touch; participation, waiting, holding and watching, being nourished through companionship and community. The strength of Mehta’s Brent photographs is that they help us understand just how fragile we are.

I hold these photographs dear because I locate them within a time of cultural and political solidarity with the subjects being framed. It’s a sensation that I hope won’t go away and that resists being consigned to memory, because the importance of this photographic work is that it allows us to feel."

Dr Mark Sealy is the Director of Autograph and Principal Fellow Decolonising Photography at University of Arts London. 
Two smiling people hug on a street at night next to a car. A passerby walks behind them.
Three people sit in chairs on a row. Two of them hold hands.
A large group of young and elderly people sitting together. They are all looking away from the camera.
A person stood outside next to a large stone column. They are wearing a suit and have a hat held low in their hand.


Purchase Revival: London 1989 - 1993 from the Hoxton Mini Press website

Follow Roy Mehta on Instagram

Visit Mehta's website and see more of his work


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Revival: London 1989 - 1993 is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Also supported by Brent 2020 London Borough of Culture, and Spectrum Photographic.

Images courtesy Roy Mehta