Hackney photo show tells tales of 80s life

Hackney in the 1980s: Photographs from the Tape/Slide Project. Pic: Lana Sargeant

Hackney Museum launched its latest exhibition yesterday evening with their first online Zoom panel, complete with guests who have been a big part of the project which shines a light on 80s life in the borough.

The free photography exhibition – Hackney in the 1980s: Photographs from the Tape/Slide Project – shows Martin Parr and Bruce Golden-style documentary photographs. As well as images, it also has artefacts from the time period. 

The museum opens up onto Hackney Town Hall where many protests of the 1980s photographed within this exhibition took place, making it the perfect setting for the images. 

The exhibition is based on The Tape/Slide Project that was discovered in 2016 when staff at the Rio cinema, Dalston were clearing basement storerooms. The team discovered thousands of old photographic slides documenting Hackney in the 1980s. The images have been retouched by Stoke Newington photographer Alan Denney, who was a part of the panel. 

The exhibition depicts a Hackney that can be seen today but also one that isn’t recognisable at all. A working class area, ignored by national news and London media, it was seen as the worst place to live in the UK in terms of quality of life. 

However, Andrew Woodyatt of Rio Cinema said: “It had amazing resillence, if you want something done you had to get off your arse and do it yourself.” 

All of the images were originally part of a newsreel project which was a community initiative set up by those working at the Rio to cover local news from an independent viewpoint and to give unemployed young people a voice. The images would then be shown before movies. 

Christine Jackson, who was in charge of the Rio at this time in the 1980s, was looking for somewhere she could create a community hub for showing films, theatre and live music. This is what set the Rio apart from other cinemas, it was a cinema for everybody. 

An image from the exhibition, The Death of Colin Roach, 1983. Pic: Lana Sargeant

The downstairs had educational schemes for young people, most of whom were unemployed. This is where the Slide project was founded. It was aimed at young employed people in the area to teach them photography and reportage skills. News and events not covered by the press, were covered by the local people. 

Denney said that those within the scheme were a generation of “radicals and dreamers who believed photography could change the world, and empower individuals and communities to get their voices heard.”

Mayor Phillip Glanville spoke on the panel and said that the exhibition is a great representation of Hackney’s “proud and radical history…every aspect of our anti racism history, our resilience, the spirit and solidarity that we’ve had with movements and campaigns.” 

Some can still be recognised in Hackney in 2020 with the Black Lives Matter movement and in 2019 Hackney had the seventh highest number of homelessness in the country, figures found by Shelter’s This Is England report. 

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