Book reviews, Comments, Culture, In Focus

Radical community photography in Hackney in the 1980s

The Rio cinema in Hackney, at the Stoke Newington end of Kingsland High St, has been there for as long as anyone can remember.


One Day Off In Hackney. D CPL

Sean Sheehan


I recall as a youngster, when there were other cinemas on the same street (the Rio was then called the Classic), that it didn’t get to show  blockbuster films but it was still in a league above the Coliseum cinema further up the road.

Knowing nothing about Art Deco, I did know it looked different to the others and its corner location made it a landmark. It still is.

In the 1970s, the cinema came under cooperative control and evolved into a not-for-profit community arts centre.  It is now the only cinema left on Kingsland High St. A community project in the 1980s used to meet in its basement, introducing local young people to photography and sound recording.

The ‘newsreels’ they made were then shown in the cinema befor  e the commercial ads and main feature.

The project was a casualty of the Tory abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986.

One Day Off Protest. Hands off NHS

With no more funding, the project dried up and the Tape/Slide Newsreel Group’s work lay buried in clutter until the slides were discovered a few years ago when a second screen was being installed in the basement. The audio tapes have not survived.

“The Rio tape/slide archive”, is a remarkable visual and textual history of the project and testimony to its success in recording a working-class community asserting itself against the odds, a phoenix  arising from the ashes of  Tory rule in the mean years of a Thatcher government.

The book is bursting with photographs and every page is a record of a story: collecting money for the 1984-5 miners’ strike fund (over a £100,000 was donated and collectors would be threatened by the police to move on or face arrest); protests arising from the death of Colin Roach, a 21-year-old black man who died in the notorious Stoke Newington police station from gunshot wounds; the discrimination meted out to the occupants of the several Traveller sites in the borough;  campaigns against NHS cuts; visits to Greenham Common and the resulting Hackney Womyn’s Peace Camp; the material deprivation of Hackney’s council estates.

One Day Off. Colin Roach protest

More than a record of a past struggles, “The Rio tape/slide archive” is the writing on the wall for a new generation.

Hackney’s protest at the deportation of two Turkish parents of children who were born in England not only evokes the Windrush scandal but the looming immigration policies being implemented by the bully in charge at the Home Office.

The death of Colin Roach serves as a reminder of the racism that continues to make itself felt within the Metropolitan Police.

The demonstrations held against the NHS serve as a warning about the new reign of austerity about to descend on Hackney and the rest of England. The radical, empowering spirit celebrated in this book is as necessary as ever.

“The Rio tape/slide archive” is published by Isola Press

(Photos supplied by the Publisher)

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