The legacy of Black women photographers in 80s and 90s Britain

A new book edited by Joy Gregory revisits pre-millennium Britain through the lens of 57 photographers, contextualised by illuminating essays and reflections

Shining Lights: Black Women Photographers in 1980s-90s Britain brings together work by an “important and long-overlooked generation of artists”, says editor Joy Gregory. By highlighting the practices of these 57 photographers, many of whom are now in their 60s and 70s, Gregory hopes to give due recognition to an important chapter in the history of photography while helping others today to feel “empowered to pursue their dreams”.

The book is split into themed chapters filled with portfolios on individual photographers, testimonies, essays, and ‘roundtable discussions’. Its pluralistic approach was purposefully devised, with Gregory and associate editor Taous Dahmani striving to make the book a work of collaboration that truthfully reflected the photographers’ perspectives.

Top: Shirley, montage by Claudette Holmes, 1990; Above: From the series Untitled by Maxine Walker, 1987; All images from Shining Lights by Joy Gregory, Mack, 2024, courtesy the artists and Mack
Cowgirl, London from the series Cross Colour by Lola Flash, 1999

“As Black women we have constantly endured other people telling our stories or explaining to us what we mean. Voice is an essential aspect of this book, because for decades we have not been heard,” Gregory writes.

Among the book’s 57 featured photographers is Gregory herself, whose contribution to this period is relayed in the foreword written by fellow artist Sonia Boyce. The two met at the opening of the very first exhibition held by Autograph – also co-publisher of the book – in 1990. “Her relation to the camera – the mechanical eye –seemed to reflect surveillance, self-fashioning, and poetry,” Boyce writes.

Autoportrait by Joy Gregory, 1990/2006

Explaining the backdrop to the chosen period, Boyce says that the “groundswell of creative expression” during the 1970s, combined with the critical analysis of photography as a medium, laid some of the foundations for the following decades. But it appears that, more than anything else, this generation of artists was prolific thanks to the formal and informal networks established by the photographers themselves, from cooperatives to magazine publishing.

The book itself is the product of a journey dating back some 35 years, when Gregory and the late publisher Araba Mercer set about creating an anthology of Black women photographers, before their progress was curtailed by costs.

‘Design Cut’ haircut by Twin Barbers, Brixton by Carole Wright, 1992
Whitechapel Girls by Suki Dhanda, 1999

“The main inspiration for Araba and myself back in 1987 was the absence of books that showed our pictures and told our stories. Making this book has been a continuation of that DIY culture because today there is still nothing on the shelves and little included in the tomes compiled by experts beyond the same four or five repeated names,” Gregory writes.

“It has truly been a labour of love to address this unwritten story that should have always been a major chapter of late-20th-century British photographic history.”

Memories of You II by Menika van der Poorten, c. early 1990s
Her, from the series Black Beauty by Maxine Walker, 1991
Portrait of two girls from a series for fashion designer Wale Adeyemi MBE by Jennie Baptiste, 1995
Untitled, from the series Afro Hair and Beauty Show by Eileen Perrier, 1998

Shining Lights: Black Women Photographers in 1980s–90s Britain by Joy Gregory is published by Mack and Autograph;