Syd Shelton
Rock Against Racism

2 October - 5 December 2015

Rivington Place

London, UK

Free exhibition

Final week! Galleries open late and free events on Saturday 5 December >

Time Out: Top Ten Photography Exhibitions in London

‘Shelton’s images...capture a period charged with thrills, anger and the threat of violence.’
- The Guardian

The TelegraphThe best photography exhibitions on now

Final weeks to see the first major exhibition of Syd Shelton’s photographs capturing one of the most intriguing and contradictory political periods in British post war history. Between 1976 and 1981, the movement Rock Against Racism (RAR) confronted racist ideology in the streets, parks and town halls of Britain. RAR was formed by a collective of musicians and political activists to fight fascism and racism through music.

Under the slogan 'Love Music, Hate Racism', it showcased reggae and punk bands on the same stage, attracting large multicultural audiences. At a time when the fascist attitudes of the National Front were gaining support, RAR marked the rising resistance to violent and institutionalised racism.

Purchase the new Rock Against Racism photography book >

Syd Shelton’s photographs document the volatility of a country divided across race, class and gender. They expose the ferocity of cultural difference being hammered out on Britain’s streets through the late 1970s, at a time when racist skinheads danced to Jamaican ska, punks embraced reggae and black kids reached out to punk. Shelton photographed performers such as The Clash, Elvis Costello, Misty in Roots, Tom Robinson, Au Pairs and The Specials as well as the audiences at RAR gigs and carnivals across England. He captured the history-making RAR Carnival 1 at Victoria Park, London in 1978, and demonstrations such as the Anti National Front Demonstration in Lewisham in 1977. Shelton also took contextual social and cultural images that informed the politics of the movement across England and Ireland.

As Shelton says: ‘In collaboration with UK reggae and punk bands, RAR members took on the orthodoxy through five carnivals and some 500 gigs throughout Britain. In those five years, the National Front went from a serious electoral threat into political oblivion.

Rock Against Racism revisits the energy of RAR, the creative entanglement of black and white musicians, designers, writers, actors, performers and supporters who produced effective counter-narratives to whiteness as superior and blackness as alienated. Shelton’s photographs remind us that RAR was a particular treatise on belonging in Britain.

RAR did not have an official photographer and Shelton has produced the largest collection of images on the movement. He says of the period: ‘Photography for me has always been an autobiographical tool, a sort of staccato visual diary….I also used my photography during that period as a graphic argument, enabling me to be a subjective witness of the period which could, hopefully, contribute to social change ….’

What the press says

Shelton’s images...capture a period charged with thrills, anger and the threat of violence.

The Guardian

incredible photographic documents of the activist movement Rock Against Racism

Time Out

This free exhibition and 188-page book is a history of successful activism and a wonderful inspiration to everyone agitating and propagandising with imagination and spirit today


Rock Against Racism – how an artistic movement took on the National Front

British Journal of Photography

At a time when right-wing media attacks on the black community in southeast London were common and discriminatory policing was taking a toll on that community, Rock Against Racism brought together antiracist activists from across the country


With his new exhibition and book, Syd’s five years at the forefront of one of the biggest social movements of the 1970s are captured in all their glory.

Huck Magazine

how punk and reggae fought back against racism in the 70s


Visitor Comments

Moving, influential, captivating. Sheds light on a subject which is still widely ignored

How fantastic that this brilliant collection is on show, it is a definitive document of its age.

A rich display of history, energy, style and substance! This unexpected detour into this gallery has inspired me to find out more about punk and that whole era.

Our kids should see this exhibition to keep the fight on!

An awesome insight into pivotal cultural and historic events

Lived in New Cross and was involved in many marches…want to show my kids this exhibition. Excellent.

Moving and powerful stuff. More exhibitions like these should be shown to the public to understand the injustice.


Rock Against Racism
Exhibition Opening Reception & book launch

Thurs 1 Oct, 6:30 - 8:30pm

Rivington Place, London

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Rock Against Racism
Artist’s talk with Syd Shelton

Sat 3 Oct, 2 - 3pm

Rivington Place, London

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Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism
Modern Magic Lantern Show

Thu 15 October, 7:30pm

Bishopsgate Institute, London

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Culture has the Power!

Fri 13 November, 6:30pm

Rivington Place, London

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EFG London Jazz Festival
Nathaniel Facey

Sat 21 November, 3 - 3:20pm

Rivington Place, London

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Racism and Creative Strategies Now

Wed 25 November, 6:45 - 9pm

Rivington Place, London

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Rock Against Racism

Fri 27 Nov, doors open 8:30pm

Rivington Place, London

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Exhibition late opening & photography book sale

Sat 5 December, 12 - 8pm

Rivington Place, London

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Rock Against Racism
Artist’s Talk with Syd Shelton

Sat 5 Dec, 2 - 3pm

Rivington Place, London

Read more »

Rock Against Racism book

Accompanying the Rock Against Racism exhibition, Autograph ABP announces the publication of a major new book of Syd Shelton’s photographs and graphic design produced for and about the British Rock Against Racism Movement of 1976-1981.

Order now >

About Syd Shelton

Syd Shelton is a British photographer and graphic designer. He has worked in Europe, Australia and the United States. He co-edited and was art director of a series of photographic books: 24 Hours in Los Angeles (1984), the award winning Day in the Life of London (1984) andIreland: A Week in the Life of a Nation (1986). His work was recently included in the exhibition Words, Sound and Power: Reggae Changed My Life at The British Music Experience: Britain’s Museum of Popular Music, O2 Arena, London (2012) and The Photographer’s Gallery exhibition The World in London.

Curated by

Rock Against Racism is curated by Mark Sealy at Autograph ABP, in collaboration with guest curator Carol Tulloch.

Press and information

All press enquiries please contact Alison Wright
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: +44 (0)20 7720 9200

Additional Info

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

  • Rock Against Racism book, published by Autograph ABP. Published October 2015
  • Syd Shelton, Bagga, vocalist with Matumbi, Hackney, London, 1978