Words by Mr Ryan Herman Photography by Mr Vanley Burke
Often described as “the godfather of Black British photography”, Mr Vanley Burke moved to the UK from Jamaica in 1965 with a box Brownie camera that his mum bought him for his 10th birthday. Since then, he has been documenting the lives of people living in and around Handsworth, Birmingham, to create one of the most important and celebrated archives of Black British life and culture. Mr Burke’s work has been published in books, and displayed in galleries around the world. In 2018, he appeared on Desert Island Discs and is featured in a new book titled 100 Great Black Britons.
“I didn’t have a mentor,” he says. “So I used a friend in Jamaica as my sounding board. I thought, ‘I will take the photograph as if I’m trying tell him what life is like in Britain.’ I broke it down into different topics – social, politics, religion, that sort of thing. Obviously style and what people wear is such an important part of that story.
His latest project is Hard Times Require Furious Dancing – the title is taken from a poem by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Ms Alice Walker. Mr Burke has become the mentor he never had, teaching people within his community how to document and archive their lives through photography. And 2020 will be quite a tale to tell.
To coincide with Black History Month, he has selected some of his favourite images for MR PORTER. They not only chart how style has evolved but also he reveals the stories behind those images and the experiences of black people living in Britain over the past 50 years. Over to you, Mr Burke…