Black Chronicles II

12 September - 29 November 2014

Rivington Place

London, UK

Free exhibition

Autograph ABP presents Black Chronicles II, a new exhibition exploring black presences in 19th and early 20th-century Britain, through the prism of studio portraiture – continuing our critical mission of writing black photographic history.

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 photographs present 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.

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.

Black Chronicles II is a public showcase of Autograph ABP’s commitment to continuous critical enquiry into archive images which 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 acomprehensive 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 photographic studios in Britain prior to 1938, with a majority during the latter half of the 19th century. Alongside numerous portraits of unidentified sitters, the exhibition includes original prints of known personalities, such as Sarah Forbes Bonetta, goddaughter to Queen Victoria; Prince Alemayehu, photographed by renowned photographer Julia Margaret Cameron; or Kalulu, African ‘boy servant’ (companion) to the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

This extensive display of over 100 original carte-de-visite is drawn from several collections, and presented in dialogue with Autograph ABP’s 1996 commission ‘Effnik’ by Yinka Shonibare MBE.

A highlight of the show is a dedicated display of thirty 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 negatives by 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, students 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 exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Stuart Hall (1932-2014). It features text and audio excerpts from his keynote speech on archives and cultural memory, held at Rivington Place in May 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.’ Curators’ note

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).

What the press says

Astonishing portraits unseen for 120 years...In Black Chronicles II, the resurrected photo albums and carte de visites, plus a slideshow of black British soldiers and portraits culled from the Hulton Archive and the National Army Museum all add up to an impressionistic history of black British experience – but, more tantalisingly, tell the extraordinary individual stories that underpinned that collective cultural experience.

Sean O'Hagan, The Guardian

Powerful - a tantalising new exhibition...Huge and beautiful images of the people whom British photographic history has, shamefully, tended to omit.

Charlotte Runcie, The Telegraph

Visitor comments

This is remarkable, overdue and mesmerizing - an insight into the pride and beauty of lives so overlooked in mainstream photographic histories and now it is mainstream due to this exhibition! Thank you for assembling this.

LOVE IT! You give voice to those who were here before. Thank you.

Knock me down with a daguerreotype: I am RUNNING to Black Chronicles II at Autograph ABP

A really amazing, powerful, and important exhibition for Britain. Thank you!

What a wonderful find of a forgotten narrative. Well curated.

Perhaps one of the most thought provoking exhibitions I have even seen. Thank you.

A stunning and captivating exhibit. In revealing this long-hidden history, Black Chronicles II has almost given us a whole new alternative.

The quality of the images, the remembrance, the vivid reality and interpretations were nothing short of amazing!

Inspired and proud!

Strikingly beautiful portraits. Exposure and resolution are beautiful and I felt immersed in them from the first look.

Further acclaim

Getty Images is thrilled to be involved with such a prestigious project and to have opened our doors to the team at Autograph. Black Chronicles II is a stunning exhibition and the fact that the majority of the negatives unearthed from within the Hulton Archive have lain undisturbed, bound in brown paper and string, for over 120 years is truly extraordinary. Everyone connected with the project deserves much credit in helping to bring our cultural heritage to life and demonstrates how important photographic archives such as the Hulton are in terms of telling the story and providing a new perspective on our cultural past.

Matthew Butson, Vice President, Hulton Archive, Getty Images


Fully booked! Illustrated Talk with Dr Caroline Bressey

Tue 28 October, 6:30 - 8:30pm

Rivington Place, London

Read more »

The Missing Chapter Recitals

Friday 7 November. Doors open 6:30, 7pm start

Rivington Place, London

Read more »

Walking Tour

Saturday 8 November, 4 - 5.30pm

Rivington Place, London

Read more »

The Family Album Roadshow

Sunday 9 Nov, 11am - 3pm

Rich Mix, London

Read more »

Image Projection at Stamford Works

14 & 15 November 2014, 5 - 11pm

Gillett Street, Dalston, London

Read more »

Have your portrait taken at Gillett Square

Sat 15th November, 12 - 4pm & 6 - 8pm

Gillett Square, London

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From Dusk Image Projections

Fri 7 - Sun 9 November 2014

Rich Mix, London

Read more »

Exhibition closing party & book sale
Black Chronicles II

Thurs 27 November, 6 - 9pm

Rivington Place, London

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Fully booked! Free Exhibition Learning Opportunities

12 September – 29 November 2014

Rivington Place, London

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Fully booked! Invitation to Groups: Free Exhibition Tours

12 September - 29 November 2014

Rivington Place, London

Read more »

Visitor information

Please note the gallery will be closing early on the following dates for events:
5pm Wed 8th October
5:30pm Wed 12 November
Tuesday 18 November

Rivington Place

T: info@rivingtonplace.org
P: 0207 749 1240

Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday: 11am – 6pm
Thursday: 11am – 9pm
Saturday: 12 – 6pm
Closed Sundays, Mondays and Bank Holidays

Rivington Place is fully accessible. Disabled parking bays are available, please call in advance to reserve.

Free admission

What’s in the exhibition?

Project Space 1 (PS1, Ground Floor)
60 modern silver gelatin hand-prints, produced from original 19th century glass plates held in the London Stereoscopic Company collection at the Hulton Archive, owned by Getty Images.

Project Space 2 (PS2, Second Floor)
A selection of original albumen prints, cabinet cards, and over 100 ‘carte-de-visite’, featuring the personal collections of Val Wilmer; Jenny Allsworth; Michael Graham-Stewart; and Paul Frecker/The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography.

A display of rare original albums and prints by the London Stereoscopic Company, courtesy of the Hulton Archive.

Effnik by Yinka Shonibare - a 1996 Autograph ABP commission.

A slideshow of studio portraits of the King’s Orderly Indian Officers (1903 – 38) is presented in partnership with The National Army Museum, whose collection reflects the rich history and traditions of the British Army.

Both exhibition spaces feature text and/or audio extracts from a keynote lecture by the late Professor Stuart Hall, from Autograph ABP’s inaugural archive symposium The Missing Chapter: Cultural Identity and the Photographic Archive, Rivington Place, 21 May 2008.

Share your thoughts

Curated by

Black Chronicles II is curated by Renée Mussai and Mark Sealy

Research for Black Chronicles II and The Missing Chapter project is led by Renée Mussai at Autograph ABP.

Renée Mussai is Curator and Head of Archive at Autograph ABP. She is currently a PhD candidate at UCL; her research is concerned with black portraiture, photography and the archive.

Mark Sealy MBE is the Director of Autograph ABP. He is currently a PhD candidate at Durham University; his research focuses on photography and cultural violence.

In collaboration with

Black Chronicles II is produced in collaboration with the Hulton Archive, a division of Getty Images
The Hulton Archive is a major visual resource and home to over 80 million images, of which a mere fraction are digitised. One of the oldest and largest archives in the world, the archive’s content is drawn from approximately 1500 individual collections and is a division of Getty Images, the leading provider of digital media within the imagery and video licensing industry. From the birth of photography to the present day, Hulton Archive offers a wealth of original, and in many cases unique, photographic material – alongside engravings, maps, cartoons, etchings, lithographs, illustrations and related visual ephemera dating back to the very beginnings of printed media. Situated in Westbourne Park, London, the Hulton Archive is a national treasure trove of imagery. 

A digital slide show is presented in partnership with The National Army Museum (NAM). The NAM explores the impact of the British Army on the story of Britain, Europe and the world; how Britain's past has helped to shape our present and our future and how the actions of a few can affect the futures of many. The National Army Museum was established by Royal Charter to tell the story of the Land Forces of the Crown wherever they were raised. Opened by the Queen in 1960, it moved to its current site in Chelsea in 1971. 

Part of The Missing Chapter project 2013 - 2016

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Missing Chapter aims to augment the photographic narratives of migration and cultural diversity in relation to Britain’s colonial history, and disseminate a visual heritage that is fragmented and often dislocated.  Working in partnership with major cultural institution such as the National Portrait Gallery, the Hulton Archive and the National Army Museum (as well as other collaborators), Autograph ABP are researching examples of photographic evidence of black presences in Britain dating back to the earliest images produced since the invention of photography in 1839.

The Missing Chapter builds on the concept of ‘animating the past to imagine the future’, bringing the photographic archive out of the gallery/museum context and into direct engagement with communities. It offers a range of participatory activities and innovative public displays, aimed at overcoming recognised social barriers to access and offering new kinds of opportunities for diverse audiences to experience the content of Autograph ABP’s own, and other associated collections; our outreach initiatives provide opportunities for volunteers and young people to become actively involved in producing creative work, while others receive training in research skills, digital preservation and collection care.

A dedicated programme over three years includes a series of temporary large scale image projections staged in public spaces, pop up and gallery based exhibitions, the development of digital learning tools, online portfolios, an interactive app for mobile devices, and a forthcoming publication.

Black Chronicles II represents the first public showcase of The Missing Chapter research programme.

Press contact

All press enquiries please contact Alison Wright on
E: alison@alisonwrightpr.com
T: +44 (0)1608 811 474
M: +44 (0)7814 796 930

For further information about the exhibition please contact Lois Olmstead at Autograph ABP
E: lois@autograph-abp.co.uk
T: 020 7729 9200

Supported by

Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation,

About Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK. www.hlf.org.uk.

  • Eleanor Xiniwe, The African Choir, 1891. London Stereoscopic Company. Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • Unidentified sitter, c. 1881. Missionary Leaves Association. Courtesy Paul Frecker collection / The Library of Nineteenth Century Photography
  • Saragano Alicamousa, renowned lion and tiger tamer, c. 1870s
  • Mussa Bhai, The Salvation Army, 1890. London Stereoscopic Company studios. Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • Peter Jackson, 1889. London Stereoscopic Company. Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • Unidentified sitters, c. 1870s. Courtesy Paul Frecker Collection
  • Dhuleep Singh, c. 1864. Courtesy Jenny Allsworth collection
  • Rivington Place, London. Photo: Pattercutter, 2012