Vanley Burke is one of the most important British photographers. He was born in Jamaica and arrived in Birmingham in 1965 aged 15. Here he began photographing the lives and experiences of the African Caribbean community. His work has been described as the greatest photographic document of Caribbean people in post-war Britain. 

This display shows how Burke has documented the poignant and everyday moments of life in Birmingham. Burke’s photographs capture scenes of childhood, crowds, community and faith, power and protest, as well as portraying influential men and women of our time. Many of the photographs were taken from well-known areas in Birmingham, such as the Bull Ring, Digbeth, Cannon Hill Park and Handsworth, demonstrating Burke’s connection to the diverse and cosmopolitan city. 

The photographs in this display are part of a series of 100 works known as ‘Rivers of Birminam’. These were acquired for the people of Birmingham as part of the Collecting Birmingham project, run by Birmingham Museums Trust and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Local communities were consulted on what items should be added to Birmingham’s collection to represent them and their lives. 

Burke has said: “I am delighted the collection has found a permanent home in the city with Birmingham Museums. The photos reflect an important era of migration and settlement in Birmingham and it feels only right that the people represented in the images and their families can appreciate them for many years to come. In fact, I feel like the photos belong to the people of Birmingham as so many people feel connected to the stories and experiences documented in them and I’m very pleased they will now be part of the city’s collection.”

This display is free.

Images:

  • Africa Liberation Day, Handsworth Park. The crowd listens to speakers from Africa, America and the Caribbean bringing news and information of the Black Diaspora, 1977  © Vanley Burke
  • Boy with a flag, Wilfred, in Handsworth Park, 1970 © Vanley Burke
  • Velrose, Cannon Hill Park, 1972 © Vanley Burke
  • Out-riders head the African Liberation Day rally, Rookery Road, Handsworth, 1977 © Vanley Burke
  • Young men on a see-saw in Handsworth Park, 1984 © Vanley Burke
  • Ivy House Pub, Soho Road, was one of many Black-owned businesses in Handsworth, 1987 © Vanley Burke