Roy Mehta on documenting the rich multiculturalism of Brent between 1989-93
Shot around 30 years ago, the London-based photographer’s book – published by Hoxton Mini Press – bears great relevance to today.
- Ayla Angelos
- 23 February 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Brent is one of London’s 32 boroughs. It’s located on the north-west side of the city and borders Harrow, Barnet, Camden and Westminster on either side. It’s also where Roy Mehta was born and raised, a photographer who still resides in the city. “For me, Brent represents the multi-faith, multi-ethnic heart of London,” he tells It’s Nice That, “I knew the area well.”
Roy is a London-based photographer with 30 years’ professional experience under his belt. His work has taken him to numerous locations across the UK and internationally, lensing themes of identity and belonging specifically. Most recently, not only has he been part of a photography project, titled Sixteen – focusing on young people that toured extensively around the UK – he’s also exhibited as part of the Brighton Photo Festival 2014 and was part of a group show in London organised by Uncertain States. He boasts an impressive portfolio too, with projects ranging from Distant Relations and Coastline, each documenting social issues and life found in the UK. He’s also been building a larger project in Mumbai, India, and continuing his work on commissioned photographic assignments.
It’s a wide-spanning portfolio and one that’s enabled him to travel to all sorts of fascinating places. Then, shortly after a stint of working in various parts of Britain’s capital, Roy decided it was time to turn his focus on a place closer to home. As such, he began his work in Brent – a place he felt more connected with, and a location he started to visually examine while pursuing the medium of photography at school. The result of which is a new black and white publication titled Revival: London 1989-1993, compiling a collection of Roy’s imagery shot between the late 80s and the early 90s.
During this time, in 1989, Roy was living in Farnham, but he knew the area of Brent like the back of his hand – he just hadn’t been there for a while. So he packed up his camera and started to wander the roads of his old hometown, taking pictures along the way and observing the streets that he once used to roam as a child. “I gradually got to know the people and began to be accepted into churches, pubs, homes, dancehalls and other places in the community,” Roy tells It’s Nice That. “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.”
Back then, picture taking was more of a personal endeavour. The internet had only been around for a short while and digital privacy was yet to become a topic of debate. Not to mention the process of documenting everything around you to then share with the world through social media. It was a collaborative and interpersonal practice, and one that saw Roy photograph his subjects and build close relationships with those that he lensed. “Often I would give people prints that they would share with their families and over time I would build up a connection,” he adds, illustrating a stark comparison to the digital world we live in currently.
Roy’s photographic style has always been telling and full of prosperity, two elements that run paramount throughout the work of Revival in its depiction of London's (and Brent’s) flourishing multiculturalism. In one image, Man and blind woman, Roy tells us how he’d unearthed it in a box of negatives. It was a photo 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,” says Roy. “Inevitably I find myself looking at these images through the complexities of the struggles that we are currently enduring, and I hope that these images will enable the viewer to have a chance to pause, reflect and celebrate our common humanity.”
Another, Child’s Hand on back, arose after Roy decided on a new turn for his photography. He was interested in creating work that would serve as acts of “solidarity, kindness, support or tenderness using hands as makers,” he adds. This was yet another picture found in his archives, and this time he was drawn to it for the depiction of the younger person’s hand on the back of the adult. “There seems to be so much going on within the image and that gesture, and I would love to know more about the story behind them.”
Even though these pictures were taken around 30 years ago, they have pertinence and relevancy that’s hard to miss. The desire for interaction and intimacy has never been more rife, what with our basic needs being stripped away for months on end due to the pandemic. So when you look at Roy’s pictures, these feelings start to become uncovered but in the most welcoming way possible. “They speak about community, touch, reflection, laughter and sadness and in doing so are as much about our present as they are about the past,” he says, noting the series’ significance today.
Revival is to be exhibited at The Exhibition Space in London next year and will be curated by artist and curator Laura Noble, offering a “very different experience” of the project through her edits and interpretation. Even though that’s a little while away from now, though, Roy has a message for anyone that recognises themselves in the project: “contact me – through my website as I would like to meet them and make another portrait of them and see where their lives have taken them during this period,” he says, noting how he’s already been contacted by two people after a Guardian feature on the book. He also hopes to collaborate with a filmmaker to record the meetings, so if that’s you, you know what to do.
GalleryRevival: London 1989-1993 by Roy Mehta is published by Hoxton Mini Press (Copyright © Roy Mehta, 1989-1993)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.