John Goto
1977: Lewisham and Belleville

22 November - 21 December 2013

Art Jericho Gallery

Oxford, UK

Past exhibition

Art Jericho presents an exhibition of photographs by John Goto, coinciding with the publication of Lover's Rock by Autograph ABP

Lovers Rock is a series of intimate portraits created in Lewisham, South London in 1977. As a young artist, Goto taught evening classes in photography and film for two years at Lewisham Youth Centre, where these portraits were made. 

Photographed against a plain backdrop, the sitters show an exuberant, supportive and friendly community at odds with the prevailing media images of black youths at the time. The unselfconscious engagement in front of the camera can be, in part, explained by their familiarity with the photographer, who was not much older than the sitters.

The series is entitled Lovers Rock after a musical sub-genre that grew out of the South London reggae scene in the mid-1970s. In 1975, the singer Louisa Mark cut the first Lovers Rock hit with ‘Caught You in a Lie’.

Also exhibiting are vintage prints from the Belleville series. In the autumn of 1977, Goto embarked for Paris, where he worked in the Arab-Jewish district of Belleville. The 19th arrondissement in many ways echoes Lewisham; traditionally a working-class area of poor apartment blocks, it had become home to Jewish migrants fleeing pograms, and later to North African communities.

Rather than photographing people as he had in Lewisham, Goto worked with architectural details, facades, and found objects. These pictures too seem to signal a form of resistance to the prevailing social conditions and attitudes. 

Acclaim for Lovers Rock

Goto's wonderfully engaging portraits offer an important counter narrative to the dominant image of black youth in south London during the mid 70s, which constantly framed them as wildly delinquent. These photographs literally turn the table on that myth.

Mark Sealy MBE, Director of Autograph ABP

After 35 years, Goto's portraits have acquired a special gravity. They are powerful and important for the explicit challenge they present to the rules of racial interpretation. This is because racism always denies individuality to those it subordinates. A black person is primarily a type, the representative of a group. Here in these images, the photographers loving eye has allowed, even encouraged, his sitters to cultivate the dimensions of individual subjectivity that racism simply cannot accommodate.

Professor Paul Gilroy

The far-right National Front attempted to stage a march across Lewisham in protest against a multi-cultural Britain and met with significant resistance, the resulting conflict leading to 214 arrests. It was within this political climate that John Goto’s Lovers’ Rock series came into being, photographing young black people growing up amidst such unrest.

Oxford Culture Review

Exhibition press

I set up a makeshift studio in a room adjacent to the dancehall where I photographed the young people, readied for their evening out. So the motivation wasn’t for posterity, career or money, it was because I thought it the artist’s job to tell of their time, as best they could, and this was a part of my time.

John Goto, interviewed for Photomonitor

In partnership with

Art Jericho

Art Jericho is an independent gallery in Jericho, Oxford

Artist biography

John Goto is a British artist best known for his pioneering photo-digital artworks, which address a range of historical, cultural and socio-political subjects.

Less well-known are his early analogue works, which are the focus of the present exhibition.

Goto has staged solo London exhibitions at The National Portrait Gallery, Photographers' Gallery and Tate Britain, and has exhibited widely internationally. He is currently Professor of Fine Art at the University of Derby.

John Goto: Lovers Rock book

Autograph ABP is publishing a book of John Goto's Lovers Rock series of portraits, with essays by distinguished cultural historians Professor Paul Gilroy and Lola Young, Baroness Young of Hornsey, OBE.

Signed copies will be available at Art Jericho during the exhibition

Read more about the book >

John Goto in the Autograph ABP Archive

Since 1977, the negatives of Lovers’ Rock have lain dormant. In 2011 John Goto approached Autograph ABP, and as part of the Archive and Research Centre we intend that the digitisation and preservation of this important body of work will be enabled.

A portfolio of 46 18 x 22" photographs will be printed and certified by the artist, and be represented in Autograph ABP’s photography collection.

Press contact

For further information, please contact Lois Olmstead at Autograph ABP - phone +44 (0)20 7720 9200  or email lois@autograph-abp.co.uk 

Additional Info

Art Jericho Gallery
King Street


Wednesday - Saturday: 11am to 5pm
Sunday: 1 to 5pm
Or by appointment

Art Jericho Gallery is wheelchair accessible

  • Installation at Art Jericho Gallery, Oxford
  • John Goto, Lovers rock, 1977
  • John Goto, Lovers Rock, 1977