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15 Feb 2018

Iconic images by Vanley Burke on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Thirty iconic images by highly renowned Birmingham-based photographer Vanley Burke are on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG). 

Vanley Burke: Photographing Birmingham (1968-2011) runs until 1st July 2018 on the Bridge Gallery at BMAG and showcases images from Vanley’s celebrated ‘Rivers of Birminam’ series, which documents 40 years of African Caribbean experience in Birmingham. 

The ‘Rivers of Birminam’ series features 100 images that make up the “greatest photographic document of Caribbean people in post-war Britain”. The thirty photographs selected for display cover themes of power and protest, childhood, crowds, community and faith, and life and the everyday.
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. 

This display shows how Burke has documented the poignant and everyday moments of life in Birmingham. 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.   

Some of the most prominent images include Mohammed Ali being mobbed by a crowd outside a restaurant in Handsworth in 1987, and Boy with a Flag’ called Wilfred Winford Fagan in 1970.

A film created by Chris Keenan is also on display as part of the exhibition, in which Burke discusses his work. Filmed and edited by Keenan, the film was originally made for and shown with the series of 100 works at mac Birmingham.

‘Rivers of Birminam’ was acquired for the city’s museum collection in 2017 through the Collecting Birmingham project – a three year initiative run by Birmingham Museums which looks to local communities to share their views on what items should be collected to better represent them and their lives.

The captivating and thought-provoking images were acquired by the initiative after consultations with local community participants.

Vanley Burke, 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.”

Lisa Beauchamp, curator of modern and contemporary art at Birmingham Museums Trust, said: “Vanley is a remarkable photographer, able to capture poignant and arresting moments through the medium of black and white photography. His ‘Rivers of Birminam’ images are unparalleled in their recording of Britain’s Caribbean communities, and tell a story of Birmingham and Black British history that feels as relevant and important now as they did when the photographs were first taken.”

For more details, please visit birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag/whats-on/vanley-burke-photographing-birmingham-1968-2011