Lost and Found: Hackney Museum to exhibit rediscovered photos from the 1980s

Protesters on the first anniversary of Colin Roach’s death – credit The Rio Cinema Archive – © The Rio Cinema

The photograph of protesters in Hackney shown above could have been taken last week at a climate rally or an anti nuclear weapons march. However, it was taken in 1984, a year on from the shooting of Colin Roach at Stoke Newington Police Station as concerned residents called for justice over the 21 year old’s death. This slice of life is one of 12,000 other photos that have remained lost in the basement of The Rio Cinema for the last 30 years. 

Now, they will finally see the light of day in a new exhibition being held at Hackney Museum, which will run from May this year until August after the neglected collection showing the trials and tribulations of Hackney life in the 1980s was discovered during a second screen refit at the cinema in Dalston three years ago.

Hackney Museum Officer and exhibition curator Rowena Hiller said that the photos teach us a lot about Hackney’s political roots. “The thousands of colour photos reveal Hackney at a vibrant, forthright time and it’s important we cherish those foundations of what makes us great today. We can’t wait to see what stories and memories they uncover and we can only do that by making them accessible” she said.

Hiller said that the museum wants to curate the photographs in a way that adds value, context and a satisfying jolt of nostalgia and that the original collaboration that went into producing the photographs proves how successful and important working together can be.

“Hackney is constantly evolving. These images remind us that we’ve always been a diverse community, that we’ve always rallied for change and we understand the importance of providing opportunities for those who want to tell their own story. We’d like to think we’re taking that spirit of community collaboration forward into the forthcoming exhibition” she said.

Staff at the cinema have been able to link the photographs to a community funded street photography group called The Tape/Slide Project, established by Centerprise Bookshop which was formerly located opposite The Rio in the 1980s.

Their aim was to give young people access to photography equipment, teach them how to use darkrooms to process photographs and make recordings.

The basement of The Rio was used as a darkroom where the photographs were turned into short news reels with synchronised audio commentary or interviews and screened at the cinema before the start of a film.

Alan Denney, 68, a retired mental health social worker and teacher showed interest in the project and has undertaken the task of developing the photos for the museum. He said that the photos show an important slice of Hackney’s history.

“From my point of view as a photographer it’s a unique sort of photo project. [The photos show] something about our recent past. It shows how we are going through a similar period now with [economic] cuts and Tory attacks on working class people. It was the same then. It shows how people organised themselves and protested. The photos show that it’s never futile to resist” he said.

Members of the Tape/Slide Project outside The Rio – credit The Rio Archive – © The Rio Cinema

Denney said that the photographs and subsequent news reels covered elements of Hackney that the Tory press were not covering at the time, but from a left wing perspective. Events such as the miners’ strike from 1984-1985, the death of Colin Roach at Stoke Newington Police Station in 1983 as well as issues such as the Aids epidemic, health service cuts and unemployment were all depicted.

Hackney Councillor Guy Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Planning, Culture and Inclusive Economy said: “The journey of these images, from the way they were made to their unexpected rediscovery in The Rio basement to becoming a major exhibition at Hackney Museum is a testament to how our local museum captures the history of Hackney’s communities and curates it in a way which enables us to connect with and celebrate our cultural past”.

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