Carnival season comes early to London this week with the opening of English Carnival, a new photographic exhibition at the Barbican Library.
If pictures of drunken grannies in bumble bee costumes find themselves at odds with the many feathers and riotous West Indian sounds that you usually associate with carnival (notably Notting Hill), then this wonderful and surprising exhibition is sure to win you over.
Stalwarts of English carnivals, Paul Baldesare, Peter Marshall, David Trainer and Bob Watkins have brought together a fascinating and enthusiastic compilation of images. Produced over a 15–20 year period, the photographs aim to reflect England's present and past mix of cultural values, and in particular the way different communities throughout England have taken carnival to heart.
A major English preoccupation since before the Christian era and shaped by religious events and most recently Caribbean influences, carnival thrives—especially in little known towns and villages, if images as far and wide as Hoddendon, Hayling Island and King Somborne are anything to go by. The exhibition reimagines the noise of carnival, balancing quiet black and white observations of Notting Hill with the brash, eccentric and often bizarre takes of suburban carnival.
And if you want to know what a 1st Wallington Scout looks like, now is your chance to find out!
Words by Tommy Wong. Photo taken by Paul Baldesare.
English Carnival is free and runs until December 29 at the Barbican Library.