Exhibitions

Syd Shelton
Rock Against Racism

17 June - 3 September 2016

Impressions Gallery

Bradford, UK

Free exhibition


Syd Shelton’s images capture a pivotal moment in British politics and culture, fashion and music. Rock Against Racism (1976 to 1981) was a groundbreaking movement formed by musicians and political activists to fight racism through music.

Legendary performers photographed by Shelton include The Clash, Sham 69, Misty in Roots, Aswad, Pete Townshend of The Who, X Ray Spex, Elvis Costello, Tom Robinson, and The Specials. Shelton says, ‘I hope the exhibition shows that you can change things and you can actually take a stand, even in the most difficult of situations’.

Purchase the Rock Against Racism book, published by Autograph ABP >

Rock Against Racism grew out of the xenophobia of the UK in the late 1970s, when right-wing politician Enoch Powell stirred up racial hatred, fascist political party The National Front was gaining support, and racism was rife in institutions such as the police. The spark for Rock Against Racism came in response to Eric Clapton’s rant at a concert in Birmingham in 1976, when he urged his audience to ‘get the foreigners out’ and ‘keep Britain white’.

Under the slogan ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’, Rock Against Racism staged marches, festivals, and over 500 concerts throughout the UK. They brought together artists and audiences of different race, mixing musical styles and youth tribes – rudeboy and skinhead, punk and reggae, two-tone and ska.

Shelton – an activist, photographer and graphic designer – produced evocative images reflecting what he calls this ‘great mish-mash’. He captured the energy of The Clash playing ‘White Riot’, with the entire audience dancing; punk fans invading the stage at the Militant Entertainment tour; Aswad and Pete Townshend playing at the Southall Kids are Innocent gig, and Misty in Roots singing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tom Robinson.

Historic events featured in the exhibition include the 1978 march from Trafalgar Square to Hackney, where 100,000 crowded into Victoria Park for the first Rock Against Racism Carnival, and the Carnival Against the Nazis in Potternewton Park, Leeds in 1981. Shelton captured the wider picture of protest, photographing demonstrations against racism in Lewisham, London's Brick Lane, and Northern Ireland, and documenting the social and cultural conditions that informed the politics of the movement across England and Ireland. In the five years that Rock Against Racism operated, the National Front went from a serious electoral threat to political oblivion.

As well as photographs, the exhibition features memorabilia including the Rock Against Racism fanzine Temporary Hoarding and vintage posters, all in the distinctive punk style that Shelton helped to create.

Shelton says, ‘I don’t mean to suggest the fight is over – that would be ridiculous to say when you look at the current situation in Calais – but music had changed. It had become more multi-racial and that was fantastic’.

Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism was first exhibited at Autograph ABP in London.

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) and Ireland: 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 acclaim

Press acclaim for Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism at Autograph ABP, London

Time Out: Top Ten Photography Exhibitions in London

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

The Telegraph: The best photography exhibitions on now

British Journal of Photography: 'Rock Against Racism – how an artistic movement took on the National Front'

I-D: 'how punk and reggae fought back against racism in the 70s'

Artforum: '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.'

Additional Info

Venue
Impressions Gallery
Centenary Square
Bradford
BD1 1SD

Plan your visit >

Located in the heart of Bradford’s city centre, Impressions Gallery is in Centenary Square, opposite City Hall overlooking the new City Park. We’re on the first floor, behind the Big Screen. Our main entrance is located at the Godwin Street end of the building or you can also access the gallery through our neighbouring venue City Library.

Impressions gallery is fully accessible. 

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