Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
Autograph APB is to present the first major exhibition of photographs by Raphael Albert (1935-2009), cultural promoter and photographer of black beauty pageants in west London from the late 1960s to the 1980s. The exhibition runs from 8 July-24 September 2016 and admission is free.
For more than three decades, Albert documented hundreds of popular dance, music and community events while building up a special portfolio of portraits of aspiring models. His long and successful career as a promoter and chronicler of beauty pageants included the establishment of Miss Black and Beautiful, Miss West Indies in Great Britain, and Miss Grenada. Albert, who came to England from Grenada in 1953, also founded his own magazine Charisma in 1984, and associated modelling school. In response to contemporaneous mainstream fashion and lifestyle platforms where black women were largely absent or at best marginal, these competitions celebrated the global ‘Black is Beautiful’ aesthetic of the 1970s in a local context.
Together with the obligatory bathing costumes and high heels, contestants often sported large Afro hairstyles, inventing and reinventing themselves on stage while articulating a particular black femininity as part of a widely contested cultural performance. These pageants offered the opportunity to create a distinct space for Afro-Caribbean self-articulation, a wager against invisibility, and importantly, a site to challenge conventional notions of beauty implicated in the social, cultural, and political contexts of the time.
The exhibition's curator, Renée Mussai says: "This historical archive offers a unique and fascinating collection of rarely seen photographs that document the ambivalent cultural performance of gendered and raced identities at a particular historical conjuncture. Imbued with an exquisite, revolutionary sensuality and a certain joie de vivre, Raphael Albert’s photographs embody an aura of hedonistic confidence in a new generation of black women coming of age in Britain during the 1970s, fuelled by complex (body) politics of national identity, difference and desire."
After Albert’s death in 2009, Autograph ABP began working with two of the photographer’s daughters, Vikkie Albert and Susan Ibuanokpe, to preserve his extensive collection of negatives and prints - a dedicated portfolio is now represented as part of the Autograph ABP Archive & Research Centre.
The exhibition will showcase over 50 modern exclusive black and white fibre prints, colour and vintage photographs, as well as a selection of archive materials and ephemera. Many of these photographs are now shown for the first time as a curated selection, carefully selected and produced from original negatives.
Raphael Albert Raphael Albert (1935-2009) was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada. After moving to London in the 1950s, he studied photography at Ealing Technical College whilst working part-time at Lyons cake factory. Albert then became a freelance photographer working for black British newspapers such as West Indian World – for whom one of his first assignments was documenting Miss Jamaica. He also took pictures for The Gleaner, Caribbean Times and New World. In 1970 he established the local contest Miss Black and Beautiful, followed in 1974 by Miss Teenager of the West Indies in Great Britain and Miss West Indies in Great Britain. He organised and photographed numerous pageants celebrating black British beauty throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s and eventually founded his own modelling school. He remained committed to capturing the Caribbean communities in his London area throughout his life, often taking home-studio portrait photographs for local families, and avidly documenting weddings, christenings, and other social events. In 2007 Albert presented a Black History Month display of his work entitled Miss West Indies in Great Britain: Celebrating 30 Years of Beauty Pageants (1963-1993) at the Hammersmith and Fulham Information Centre.
Image: Raphael Albert, Miss Black & Beautiful Sybil McLean with fellow contestants, Hammersmith Palais, London, 1972. From the portfolio 'Black Beauty Pageants'. Courtesy of © Raphael Albert/Autograph ABP
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