This month’s Artist of the Month is Birmingham-based photographer Vanley Burke, whose iconic images of the Windrush generation in his native Handsworth have established him as the ‘godfather of black British photography’. A number of Burke’s works from the Arts Council Collection go on show at Firstsite in Colchester this month as part of Super Black, a new National Partners exhibition.
Vanley Burke first picked up a camera as a ten year old boy in rural Jamaica, where he was born in 1951 in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. In 1965, at the age of fourteen, Burke followed his mother to live in Handsworth, Birmingham, where he immediately began capturing the lives of the community surrounding him.
Vanley seriously started photography around 1967, making a conscious decision to document the black community and lifestyle in England at the time. "I remember realising that all history had to start somewhere and that we were at a unique stage in history in this country." Burke has since reflected.
Burke set about documenting the lives of those around him, capturing key moments in the lives of individuals and families around him, while at the same time distilling an important era of migration and settlement in Birmingham. "History is a by-product of life and it will be written whether we participate in the process or not.” Burke recently commented, “I felt as a group of people who are living this history it is important that we get involved in documenting it.”
Today, Burke is often referred to as the ‘godfather of black British photography’ and his work has been exhibited widely both internationally and in the UK, including solo exhibitions at Cornerhouse in Manchester, Walsall Museum and Art Gallery and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.