Baptism from Handsworth from Inside series, 1968-1982 by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon
Baptism from Handsworth from Inside series, 1968-1982 by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon

Black Britain in black and white

Fascinating new Vanley Burke show displays the photographer’s prints and also the contents of his life

The photographic history of 20th-century race relations tends to show protest and conflict. Think of Charles Moore’s shots of civil-rights protestors being sprayed with high-pressure hoses in Birmingham, Alabama back in 1963. However, there is another, quieter, more domesticated story to be told, which can be seen in Birmingham in Britain from today

 

Educational Outing from Handsworth from Inside, 1968-1982 by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon
Educational Outing from Handsworth from Inside, 1968-1982 by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon

The city’s Ikon gallery is opening its new show, At Home with Vanley Burke, honouring a local black photographer who shot both protest marches and local marriages, burnt-out cars and children at play. The Jamaican-born image-maker, who has lived in Birmingham for almost all his adult life, manages to capture the harmonious and more successful side of the Caribbean diaspora in Britain.

 

Wedding from Handsworth from Inside,1968-82 by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon
Wedding from Handsworth from Inside,1968-82 by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon

Here’s how the great British cultural theorist Stuart Hall puts it in our book on black and Asian photography, Different: “in his exquisitely framed images of daily life in black communities, Vanley Burke did for the black presence in the Midlands and the black communities of Handsworth, Birmingham, what the great African-American documentarists had attempted for Harlem. He vividly recorded the moments of angry political confrontation which characterised the 1960s and 70s. But his prevailing emphasis is to be found in the quieter portraits and more understated images of ‘ordinary’ daily existence – baptism and graduation, young people, as well as older black folk, clubs, schools and churches, weddings and funerals, the betting shop and cricket in the park – which offer a collective portrait of a settled people in the process of ‘coming home to themselves’.

 

Anti-National Front demonstrators by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon
Anti-National Front demonstrators by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon

The exhibition plays on this domesticity by transporting the entire contents of Burke’s flat in Nechells, northeast Birmingham, to Ikon’s main exhibition space in the centre of the city. Aside from these great pictures, you can expect to see Burke’s own collection of posters, flyers, publications, clothes, records and ornaments.

 

Day trip to Skegness, 1975, by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon
Day trip to Skegness, 1975, by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon

“This flat is many things, it’s an archive, it’s a gallery, it’s my home,” says Burke, “it’s where I collect a part of our history.” And, though it’s a long way away from the tear gas and attack dogs associated with its Alabama namesake, Burke’s collected history remains important nonetheless.

 

Handsworth disturbance, 1985, by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon
Handsworth disturbance, 1985, by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon

Find out more about the exhibition, which runs until until 27 September, go herefor further insights into black British photography buy a copy of Stuart Hall’s book Different here; and for more on the greater history of photography, including Charles Moore's 1963 shot, buy The Photography Book here.

 

Vanley Burke's home, photograph by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon
Vanley Burke's home, photograph by Vanley Burke. From At Home with Vanley Burke, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 22 July – 27 September 2015, ikon-gallery.org. Courtesy Vanley Burke and Ikon