Photographic portraits of black lives and experiences in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain

A few pictures from a recent visit to Black Chronicles: Photographic portraits 1862 – 1948, an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

A mixture of images from the Gallery’s Collection and photographs from the Hulton Archive (a division of Getty Images), it also contains some images only recently discovered having last been seen in 1891.

They are undoubtedly beautiful portraits, but I found the stories behind them fascinating too.

For example, I’d learnt about William Booth’s poverty maps of London at school, but never about Sri Lankan Musa Bhai’s involvement with Booth’s family and the Salvation Army.

I’d learnt about the poem Kubla Khan and the 18th century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge of Devon, but never the 19th century composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor of Croydon, after whom his mother had named him.

I knew nothing about the The African Choir that in 1891-93 performed around Britain and in front of Queen Victoria to raise money to build a college in South Africa (then a British Colony), nor of the first all-black ballet company, Les Ballet Negres established by Jamaican dancer and choreographer Berto Pasuka after the second World War, that performed their first season in Westbourne Grove in April 1946.

I’m also a sucker for London history – history that you can walk in the footsteps of – so loved hearing about Peter Jackson, known as ‘The Black Prince’, who in 1889 fought and defeated Jem Smith at the Pelican Club, Soho

The exhibition is of around 40 images spread in amongst three galleries; an unusual format, but one that works well as a way of trying to contextualise the photographs with the other work on display.

It’s an exhibition definitely worth checking out!

More info
Black Chronicles: Photographic portraits 1862 – 1948
Rooms 23, 31 & 33
National Portrait Gallery
Open daily 10:00-18:00. Thursday-Friday until 21:00

Exhibition runs until 11 December 2016

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