1977: Lewisham & Belleville
To coincide with the publication of John Goto's Lovers' Rock book, Art Jericho presents two series of photographs Goto made in 1977.
Art Jericho, Oxford, 22.11- 21.12.2013

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Goto's never before exhibited Lovers’ Rock series was made at Lewisham Youth Centre, where as a young artist he taught evening classes in photography. A highlight of the centre’s activities was the occasional Friday evening dance, for which huge sound systems were brought in. It was during these events that Goto set up an improvised studio next to the dance hall, and made portraits of the stylish young British Afro-Caribbean dance-goers.

Photographed against a plain backdrop as single figures, couples or small groups, they show an exuberant, supportive and friendly community at odds with prevailing media images of black youths, which stereotyped them as muggers and delinquents. According to the eminent cultural historian Professor Paul Gilroy: ‘After 35 years, Goto’s portraits have acquired special gravity. They are powerful and important for the explicit challenge they present to the rules of racial interpretation. This is because racism always denies individuality to those it subordinates. A black person is primarily a type, the representative of a group. Here in these images, the photographer’s loving eye has allowed, even encouraged, his sitters to cultivate the dimensions of individual subjectivity that racism simply cannot accommodate.’

In the autumn of 1977 John Goto embarked for Paris where he worked in the Arab-Jewish district of Belleville. The 19th arrondissement in many ways echoed Lewisham; traditionally a working-class area of poor apartment blocks, it had become home to Jewish migrants fleeing pogroms, and later to North African communities. Rather than photograph people as he had in Lewisham, Goto worked there with architectural details, facades and found objects. These pictures too seem to signal a form of resistance to the prevailing social conditions and attitudes.

Lovers' Rock book, with commissioned texts by Paul Gilroy, John Goto, Mark Sealy, and Baroness Lola Young, is published by Autograph ABP and available from their online bookshop

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