Staying on a Dalston vibe…. fresh from Autograph ABP comes Dennis Morris’ ‘Growing Up Black’. Born in Jamaica but growing up in Hackney Dennis was encouraged to pick up a camera by a patron of his local church, Donald Paterson. It became an obsession.
While his mates were football crazy he spent all of his time taking photos. Aged just 11, his photo of a PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) rally was published on the front page of the Daily Mirror. He was paid £16. However, Dennis’ big break came when he met Bob Marley after a sound check at The Speakeasy in Margaret Street. Bob took a shine to the camera toting 14-year-old and invited him to be official photographer for the rest of that groundbreaking, but short lived, UK tour with the Wailers. The next morning Dennis packed his PE bag and off he went. It was the start of an auspicious career.
Despite not being able to scrutinise the whole of this book, due to the lack of readies required, I have gleaned that over the 95 B&W images it goes deep, very deep, into Dennis’ archive. What the viewer gets is the teenage Dennis Morris, hanging with his mates, shooting kids in the street, documenting mixed race weddings in Mare St Town Hall, focusing on Admiral Ken’s box boys and capturing some style and pattern at his home studio!
According to Stuart Hall, the founder of Birmingham’s seminal Institute for Cultural Studies, who wrote one of the pieces included in the book. “In this selection from his archive, Dennis Morris gives us a beautifully well-judged and eloquent portrait of the black diaspora, frozen at a particular moment in time. It is pregnant with anticipations of what is still to come, infused with future possibilities. We are invited to read these images backwards and forwards. Growing up black in the 1970s, they suggest, was not so much a state of being as a state of becoming.”
Dennis Morris is a don and Growing Up Black, is indeed essential viewing. However, this book is lavishly produced and drops as a limited edition of 500 copies, each of which includes a signed silver gelatin print. The package sells for £300.00 – so, treat yourself or cajole your local library into ordering a copy.