1980s Brent Captured In These Beautiful Community Photos


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.

© Roy Mehta

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.

© Roy Mehta

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.

© Roy Mehta

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.

© Roy Mehta

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.

© Roy Mehta

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.

© Roy Mehta

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.

And there will be an exhibition of the work, curated by Laura Noble, that will be launched in March 2022 at The Exhibition Space, Willesden Green Library in the heart of the community.

© Roy Mehta

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.

© Roy Mehta

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.

© Roy Mehta

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.

© Roy Mehta

Revival by Roy Mehta is available from Hoxton Mini Press, RRP £25.

Check out his website and Twitter for information on the March 2022 exhibition.

Last Updated 29 January 2021

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