15 photos you need to see tracing the evolution of Notting Hill Carnival
Each year, a procession of dancers in costumes parade through west London, with crowds spilling out over into the streets of Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Park and Westbourne Grove. The parade is called Notting Hill Carnival.
Having first taken shape in the 60s, two separate events formed the cultural celebration that we see today. The first Caribbean Carnival, organised by Trinidadian activist Claudia Jones in 1959, was televised by the BBC to ease racial tensions in the UK following the emergence of fascist campaigns and violence against ethnic minorities. The second was a carnival in Notting Hill in 1966, staged by social worker Rhaune Laslett. Over five decades, it’s become a sprawling celebration of sound system and Caribbean culture.
While Carnival has, over the years, gained negative press coverage, what lies at the heart of the parade is unity and kinship. This week, non-profit organisation and archive Youth Club are teaming up with Street Event Company to host the exhibition Jump Up!, which traces the 50-year history of Carnival. Alongside the exhibition will be a talk delving into Caribbean and diaspora studies, and a sculpture workshop run by Carnival artist Carl Gabriel.
We caught up with Youth Club founders Jamie Brett and Lisa Der Weduwe to discuss how their photo archive captures the evolution of Carnival, its intrinsic link to youth culture, and why it still feels pertinent today.
Could you tell me a bit about the archive of photos? Which eras do they come from and how did you source the images?
The history of the archive dates back to Sleaze Nation Magazine, which our director Jon Swinstead founded in 1996. It was originally a free club listings handout and morphed into a lifestyle magazine with a strong authentic, focus on street style and 90s club culture. Sleaze Nation championed young up-and-coming photographers to document their scenes, whether it was the beaches of Ibiza or London clubs. Sleaze Nation published the early work of many big names in photography, and it was through this regular commissioning that an archive was formed. At this point PYMCA (Photographic Music Youth & Culture Archive) was born alongside an extensive nationwide campaign encouraging the public to submit their own youth culture images for representation.
PYMCA worked as a commercial image library for many years, however in 2015 we identified the need to preserve this iconic collection of youth culture heritage and formed the non-profit organisation Youth Club. It was at this point that we received our first Heritage Lottery grant geared towards building a Museum of Youth Culture.
“Carnival gives a space to come together when so many areas in London are becoming increasingly inaccessible”
The archive starts in the post-war period when the concept of the teenager starts to develop, but our stronghold is really the 80s onwards. We are currently trying to build a timeline of youth culture through photography and fill in any gaps we have. We always try and show the movements through people that were there and involved so we get an authentic point of view. This is all working towards our goal of opening a Museum of Youth Culture in London.
Why has Youth Club decided to exhibit the images now?
Many of our photographers have been involved with, or documented, Carnival since the 70s, so we have this huge and varied archive of photographs that show how Notting Hill Carnival has changed and developed over time.
We’ve always been on the lookout for an opportunity to show this work and celebrate the heritage and community behind this amazing street festival that brings millions of people to London. Jump Up! was an opportunity for us to bring these photographs to the heart of Notting Hill and share it with people from the community.
What are some of the themes that link Carnival to youth culture? How do the two impact each other?
One key aspect of youth culture movements is to have a space for likeminded young people to come together, without being judged and have a good time. Having developed from a community festival to this huge street party that is free and accessible, it’s given this amazing space for young people to come together and enjoy themselves.
Young people really helped transform Carnival into the sound system culture it is now and are continuously pushing it forward, whilst at the same time Carnival gives a space to come together when so many areas in London are becoming increasingly inaccessible for young people. As such it’s this real coming together of young people from different movements and walks of life; a real mix of style and music which is so exciting.
Jump Up! runs at The Muse Gallery, London, on 27-30 September