12 SEPT - 29 NOV 2014

Curated by Renée Mussai


Rivington Place



past exhibition

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About the exhibition

A major new exhibition exploring black presences in 19th and early 20th-century, through British studio portraiture.

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 structural absence within the historical record.

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Many of the images on display have recently been unearthed as part of our 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 investigating archives, which began with The Black Chronicle in 2011.

Black Chronicles II is a public showcase of Autograph’s commitment to critical enquiry into archive images which have been overlooked, under-researched or not recognised as significant, but are highly relevant to black representational politics and cultural history today. For the first time a comprehensive 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 continues Autograph's search for the earliest photographic image of a black person created in the UK.

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; Kalulu, African ‘boy servant’ (companion) to the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley, and Prince Alemayehu, photographed by photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

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

One highlight of the show is a display of thirty portraits of members of The African Choir, who toured Britain between 1891-93, seen here for the first time. These extraordinary photographs are made from glass plate negatives, made by the London Stereoscopic Company and held in the Hulton Archive, remaining unopened for over 120 years. They are presented alongside photographs of visiting performers, dignitaries, servicemen, missionaries, students and many as yet unidentified black Britons, and whose presence bears direct witness to Britain’s colonial and imperial history and the expansion of Empire.

"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

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.


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WHAT's in the exhibition

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.

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.

Sepia image of black Victorian man

Part of the project

The Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles

Our three-year archive research programme

Sepia image of black Victorian woman


Read an interview with curator Renée Mussai

The politics of representation in photography from the African diaspora.


Visit Us


Black Chronicles II is produced in collaboration with the Hulton Archive, a division of Getty Images


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Banner images: 1) John Xiniwe and Albert Jonas, London Stereoscopic Company studios, 1891. Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images. 2) Eleanor Xiniwe, The African Choir, 1891. London Stereoscopic Company. Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images. 3 and 4) Black Chronicles II gallery installation at Autograph, London. Photo: Zoe Maxwell.

Page images, from left: 1) Saragano Alicamousa, renowned lion and tiger tamer, c. 1870s [detail]. 2) Unidentified sitter [detail], date unknown, Photographer: T.W.Steven. Courtesy Autograph.