Black people in Victorian Britain: Autograph Photo Exhibition, London 12.09.14 – 29.09.14





Free exhibition

Private view 11 September, 6:30 – 8:30pm

Autograph ABP presents Black Chronicles II, a new exhibitionexploring black presences in 19th and early 20th century Britain, through the prism of photography – particularly studio portraiture.

Many of the images on display have very recently been unearthed as part of our current archive research programme, The Missing Chapter– a three-year project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This is the second exhibition in a series dedicated to excavating archives, which began with The Black Chronicles in 2011.

Drawing on the metaphor of the chronicle, the exhibition presents over 200 photographs, the majority of which have never been exhibited or published before. As a curated body of work, these photographspresent new knowledge and offer different ways of seeing the black subject in Victorian Britain, and contribute to an ongoing process of redressing persistent  ‘absence’ within the historical record.

Peter Jackson

Black Chronicles II is a public showcase of Autograph ABP’s commitment to continuous critical enquiry into archive imageswhich have been overlooked, under-researched or simply not recognised as significant previously, but which are highly relevant to black representational politics and cultural history today.  For the first time a comprehensive body of portraits depicting black people prior to the beginning of the second world war are brought together in this exhibition – identified through original research carried out in the holdings of national public archives and by examining privately owned collections. This research also coincides with Autograph ABP’s continuous search for the earliest photographic image of a black person created in the UK.

All of the photographs in the exhibition were taken in Britain prior to 1938, with a majority in the 19th century. Alongside numerous portraits of unidentified sitters taken in studios across the UK, the exhibition includes a variety of known personalities, such as a series of portraits of Kalulu, African ‘boy servant’ (companion) to the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley; a carte-de-visite of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, goddaughter to Queen Victoria in a display of over 100 original cards drawn from several collections, and a rare portrait of Prince Alemayehu, photographed by renowned photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.


A highlight of the show is a dedicated display of thirty individual portraits of members of The African Choir, who toured Britain between 1891-93, seen here for the first time. Perhaps the most comprehensive series of images rendering the black subject in Victorian Britain, these extraordinary portraits on glass plate from the London Stereoscopic Company have been deeply buried in the Hulton Archive, unopened for over 120 years.

These are presented alongside those of other visiting performers, dignitaries, servicemen, missionaries, and many as yet unidentified black Britons.  Their presence bears direct witness to Britain’s colonial and imperial history and the expansion of Empire.

They are here because you were there. There is an umbilical connection. There is no understanding Englishness without understanding its imperial and colonial dimensions’ (Stuart Hall, 2008)

The curatorial premise of Black Chronicles II is to open up critical enquiry into the archive, continue the debate around black subjectivity within Britain, examine the ideological conditions in which such photographs were produced and the purpose they serve as agents of communication. Viewers are invited to unpick the authority the archive confers on historic rendering of black experiences and it encourages us all to look beyond established grand narratives.


The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Stuart Hall (1932-2014), and features text and audio excerpts from his keynote speech on archives and cultural memory, held at Rivington Place in May 2008.

Black Chronicles II also marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Peter Fryer’s seminal book Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (1984).

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