Street life, interracial relationships, fashion, Carnival and images of bohemia are captured in Charlie Phillips’ latest exhibition Charlie Phillips: The Urban Eye. The collection of striking ‘captured moments’ in his photographic collection not only form part of a constructed and contested mythology of Notting Hill neighbourhoods in West London during the late 1950s and 1960s but also trace the evolution and transformation of the migrant urban experience into the cosmopolitan cities we inhabit today.
A key aim of the exhibition – which is Phillip’s first solo exhibition outside London in the UK – is, according to curator Paul Goodwin, to present Phillips as not just a ‘community photographer’ who has taken a random selection of iconic images but rather to consider his work as a significant contribution to the cannon of street-based urban photography in Britain.
“His work is as significant as great chroniclers of everyday street life such as Markéta Luska?ová, Shirley Baker and Tom Wood. Each photograph tells ‘other’ stories, often hidden and submerged, not only about life in that fabled part of London, but also stories about the rise of modern multicultural London and the migrant experience in the city,” he said.
The area of London captured in Charlie Phillips: The Urban Eye has in recent times become synonymous with high income gentrification and fashionable shops exemplified in the Hollywood movie, Notting Hill. This exhibition goes beneath this highly constructed image to reveal an alternative history of the area.
Phillips states that his photographic method is akin to a hunter stalking his prey and capturing fleeting moments within the frame of his photographic compositions. Charlie Phillips: The Urban Eye for example captures the determined yet optimistic gaze of a mixed race couple which directly appeals to the spectator to accept the reality of their experience; a smartly dressed urban dandy in zoot suit and spats crossing nonchalantly past a nondescript urban brick wall; and an elderly white woman making her way through urban ruins carrying a heavy load of shopping with a couple of young black children in tow.
Coming to Notting Hill from Kingston in 1956, Philips grew up against a background of hostility and prejudice in a part of London where racism, Rachmanism, rioting and sus laws, affected many people. When he was eleven he was given a Kodak Brownie by a black American serviceman and started snapping his friends and neighbours, particularly from the Caribbean Community. He developed the pictures in the bath at home, late at night when his parents had gone to bed. They were only too glad that he was not out on the streets at night and in any danger.
Charlie Phillips: The Urban Eye opens at New Art Exchange, Nottingham ( www.nae.org.uk) on Saturday 20 April and runs until Saturday 6 July.