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.
"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."
"What emerges through the making of these photographs is an understanding of what is shared within a community rather than what divides it"
"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.
Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list