Syd Shelton


Co-curated by Mark Sealy and Carol Tulloch

About the exhibition

Autograph's popular exhibition Rock Against Racism is touring to Oldham. Syd Shelton’s photographs capture one of the most intriguing and contradictory periods in British post war history. Between 1976 and 1981, the movement Rock Against Racism (RAR) confronted racist ideology in the streets, parks and town halls of Britain. RAR was formed by a collective of musicians and political activists to fight racism and fascism through music.

Under the slogan 'Love Music, Hate Racism', it showcased reggae and punk bands on the same stage, attracting large multicultural audiences. At a time when the fascist attitudes of the National Front were gaining support, RAR marked the rising resistance to violent and institutionalised racism.

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RAR did not have an official photographer and Shelton has produced the largest collection of images of the movement. He captured the history-making RAR Carnival 1 at Victoria Park, London in 1978, and demonstrations such as the Anti National Front Demonstration in Lewisham in 1977. RAR organised five carnivals and some 500 gigs across Britain.

Shelton photographed performers such as The Clash, Elvis Costello, Misty in Roots, Tom Robinson, Au Pairs and The Specials and their audience, as well as taking contextual social and cultural images that informed the politics of the movement across England and Ireland. 

This exhibition revisits the energy of RAR and the creative alliances of black and white musicians, designers, writers, actors, performers and supporters towards a common goal. Shelton’s photographs remind us that RAR was a particular treatise on belonging in Britain.

Male guitarist performing on stage in front of a large audience. He is holding a guitar and using a standing microphone.
Two young men staring directly at the camera. One is smoking and the other leant against a wall with hand in pocket.
Young boy looking directly at the camera and wearing a school uniform. He is stood in front of a brick wall with graffiti on.


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Newspaper article from The New European, featuring Autograph's Rock Against Racism exhibition.


The New European

Photographer Syd Shelton talks to Richard Holledge about the Rock Against Racism movement


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Photographer Syd Shelton stood in front photographs from Autograph's Rock Against Racism exhibition.

About the artist

Syd Shelton is a photographer and graphic designer. He studied fine art at Wakefield College of Art. In the early 1970s he began his photography practice following a move to Australia. In Sydney Syd worked as a freelance photojournalist for newspapers such as Nation Review, Tribune, and Digger. In 1975 he had his first solo photographic exhibition  at the Sydney Film-makers Cooperative.

In 1976 Syd returned to London and established the design and photography partnership Hot Pink Heart/Red Wedge Graphics which evolved into his current company Graphicsi. Syd become one of the key activists in the Rock Against Racism movement (RAR). He was a photographer and one of the designers of the RAR magazine Temporary Hoarding (1976 to 1981).

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During the 1980s he produced photographs for the press, graphics for the public and private sector/ He also was co-editor and art director of a series of photographic books that included the award winning Day in the Life of London, and Ireland: A Week in the Life of a Nation.

His work has been widely published and is in numerous public and private collections including: the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Tate Gallery, The Photographers Gallery, The Istrian Museum of Modern Art, Rock Archive, Eric Frank Fine Art and Autograph.

In 2015 a book of Syd’s RAR associated photographs was published by Autograph, Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism and accompanied by the touring exhibition of the same name.

Two male members of British band The Specials, on stage at Potternewton Park in Leeds in 1981.

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Visit Syd Shelton's website

Men and Women at a Rock Against Racism concert at West Runton Pavilion in Norfolk in 1979


The Guardian interviews Syd Shelton



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Banner image: Syd Shelton, Specials Fans. Potternewton Park, Leeds, 1981. Courtesy the artist.

Page images, from top left: 1) Syd Shelton, Paul Simonon, The Clash. Rock Against Racism / Anti Nazi League Carnival 1, Victoria Park, East London 30 April 1978. Courtesy the artist. 2) Syd Shelton, Anti-racist skinheads. Hackney, London 1979. Courtesy the artist. 3) Syd Shelton. 4) Syd Shelton, The Specials [detail], Potternewton Park Leeds 1981. Courtesy the artist. 5) Syd Shelton, Militant Entertainment Tour [detail], West Runton Pavilion. Cromer, Norfolk, 1979. Courtesy the artist.