March 2022 update: Roy Mehta's incredible photos of Brent in the 1980s and 90s are currently on show at The Library at Willesden Green, free, just turn up, 14 March-29 May
As a photography student in the late 1980s, Roy Mehta captured the everyday scenes he came across in the Brent. With the release of a book of his photos, Revival, Mehta writes about his love letter to the north west London borough, and how these images have now found new life.
I grew up in Brent. In some ways this is a love letter to Brent, the best of London and where I grew up.
I began this series when I was living in Farnham in 1989 where I was at art school studying photography. Having spent time making work in other parts of London in previous years, I wanted to make work in an area that felt connected with my own background.
I gradually got to know people in the area and began to be accepted in to churches, homes, dancehall and other places of community connections.
This was a long time before digital photography and social media, so photography was a different kind of practice. People related to the camera in a different way.
Often I would give people prints that they would share with their families and over time build up a connection.
One of the images that I discovered in my files was of a visually impaired woman holding hands with a man during a church service. There is a tenderness there, and sense of community that I feel encapsulates the best of London.
Inevitably I find myself looking at these images through the complexities of the struggles that we are currently enduring and I hope that they will enable the viewer to have a chance to pause, reflect and celebrate our common humanity.
A few years ago, I looked through some of the negatives made in 1989 and began making some test scans. As I looked through them I realised that there were a lot of images that I had never printed or looked at, that I felt were far more interesting then the ones that I had originally chosen.
The key element was the Brent 2020 London Borough of Culture festival. Here was chance to revisit this work, create a new story from it and crucially make a gift of it to the borough (to Brent Museums and Archives) as a way of saying thank you to the people and area who had given me the access into their lives.
One of the reasons that I felt so excited when I found out that Brent was holding the London of Borough Culture festival as laid out in their manifesto was that there would be a focus on this part of London that has not traditionally been recognised.
The festival generously awarded me a grant to exhibit and publish the work, along with The Arts Council National Lottery Project Grant. There are lots of other parts to the project. Some of the books will be donated to the libraries and some colleges throughout the area.
In addition, some of the media students from the college of NW London are making a creative film about their own lives in response to this archive.
London is a vibrant, ever-changing city and Brent reflects these changes in its people and places. One of the great successes of Brent 2020 London Borough of Culture is that it has acted as a signpost to highlight the talent of so many of Brent’s young musicians artists and creatives.
Have a look at the Brent 2020 website to get an insight into the amazing ongoing projects that celebrate the borough, it’s histories and look toward the future.
If anyone recognises themselves or someone they know in these photos, do get in touch with me through my website.
You may have lived in Brent 30 years ago or perhaps live there now and might recognise your friends, parents children etc.
Revival by Roy Mehta is available from Hoxton Mini Press, RRP £25.