This text explores some of the ways in which press photographs have visualized key episodes of rioting involving Black people in the English cities of London and Birmingham. These range from the Notting Hill riots of 1958 through the riots that took place in Birmingham, Brixton, and Tottenham in 1985. This text considers four wire photographs from the Baltimore Sun’s historical photo archive. Wire photos differed from traditional photographic prints insofar as the wire print resulted from breakthrough technology that allowed a photographic image to be scanned, transmitted over “the wire” (telegraph, phone, satellite networks), and printed at the receiving location. Opening here with a press photograph of a group of Black youth overturning a large police van during the course of the Brixton riots of 1981, I argue that all of the photographs discussed shed light on the multiple challenges endured by generations of Black people in Britain, even as they have endured pronounced episodes of violence, at the hands of individuals as well as the state. Considering the image of the lone petrol bomber participating in the Lozells, Birmingham, riots of 1985, I further examine the media-generated pathology of the Black bomber, forced to take his place alongside existing pernicious notions of the Black mugger and Black rapist.
Research Article| May 01 2015
Through the Wire: Black British People and the Riot
Eddie Chambers is a curator and writer of art criticism. Since the early 1980s, he has been involved in the visual arts, particularly the practice of Black British artists. He is also an associate professor in the art history department of the University of Texas at Austin.
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Nka (2015) 2015 (36): 6–15.
Eddie Chambers; Through the Wire: Black British People and the Riot. Nka 1 May 2015; 2015 (36): 6–15. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-2914273
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