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Vanley Burke

Born, 1951 in Jamaica

One of the first British-based Black people to distinguish themselves in the field of photography was Vanley Burke. Born in Jamaica in 1951, Burke came to England in 1965, having received his first camera as a present for his tenth birthday a few years earlier. For him, ‘Photography started to develop as a means of looking at people and how they lived.’ To this end, he became responsible for producing many highly engaging photographs of Birmingham’s Caribbean communities, through the course of the later decades of the 20th century. These photographs - depicting Black people at work, at play, at church, on the streets, and in their homes - have come to be regarded as key documents chronicling the lives of Black people in the country’s second largest city. Through these images, we can chart the development, importance and the growing confidence of Black Britain. In Burke’s photographs we see elderly Black men playing dominoes in a local pub, groups of young people hanging out in the park; we see Black people’s baptisms, weddings, and burials. We see also confrontations between the police and Black youngsters, people dancing, portraits of college graduates, and many other things illustrative of a vibrant, confident and multifaceted community of Black British people.

In the past, Burke’s pictures have to some extent suffered from a lack of firm historical referencing, so viewers were invariably left to calculate for themselves the approximate date of his documentary photographs. This lack of definitive reference points marred what was otherwise be an extraordinarily important document of the growth and coming of age of Black Britain. Latterly, this lack of precise referencing was correcxted in the substantial catalogue produced to accompany Burke’s retrospective, By the Rivers of Birminam, held at mac, Birmingham, 22 September - 18 November 2012. 

Burke’s images featured in the groundbreaking documentary Handsworth Songs, made by the Black Audio Film Collective in 1986.

Vanley Burke’s work was included in the group exhibition The Meaning of Style: Black British Style, and the underlying political and social environment. (New Art Exchange, 16 January - 10 April 2010)

He holds an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Art, conferred by the School of Art and Design, University of Wolverhampton.

Related items + view all 10

click to show details of Back to Black: art, cinema and the racial imaginary

»  Back to Black: art, cinema and the racial imaginary

Review relating to an exhibition, 2005

click to show details of Heart in Exile

»  Heart in Exile

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1983

click to show details of How Sweet It Was

»  How Sweet It Was

Article relating to an exhibition, 2005

click to show details of True Stories

»  True Stories

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2003

click to show details of True Stories

»  True Stories

Invite relating to an exhibition, 2004

Related exhibitions + view all 7

»  Heart in Exile

Group show at The Black-Art Gallery. 1983

Related venues + view all 12

»  The Bronx Museum of the Arts

United States of America

»  Caribbean Cultural Center

United States of America

»  The New Art Gallery Walsall

Walsall, United Kingdom

»  Studio Museum in Harlem

New York, United States of America

»  Whitechapel Art Gallery

London, United Kingdom