Peckham Portraits, a photography series shot by Franklyn Rodgers for Fraser James’ Underexposed Arts organisation, is returning to its original location as part of Black History Month celebrations. The series of large-scale portraits depicts black British, dual heritage African and Caribbean actors and originally debuted at the National Portrait Gallery in 2008 before being installed in Peckham Hill Street, London, where it adorned the street for nearly 10 years. It is now returning to this location, opening today (15 October) at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.
Conceived by James to address the perceived lack of positive black role models – a factor often cited as a contributory cause of crime and violence amongst the young black community – Underexposed Arts originally put together the Peckham Portraits to increase the visibility of talent among the British black community. After being in situ on Peckham Hill Street for ten years, they were due to be removed, but after a public outcry Southwark Council relocated them to PeckhamPlex cinema. Rodgers then carried out research into the significance of the works with the local community, and found that the portraits “made them feel represented in ways rarely seen in mainstream media,” says a statement from Underexposed Arts.
Now they are returning to their original site, as the building they were first displayed on was replaced by the new building for drama school the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts – a fitting location for the series depicting actors including Idris Elba, Ashley Walters, David Harewood, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Delroy Lindo, Angela Wynter, David Oyelowo, Diane Parish, Hugh Quarshie and Rudolph Walker.
“When we launched, I remember commenting that ‘role models are the foundation of aspiration,’” says Fraser James. “Today I still believe that there are many potential black role models in our community, but their visibility needs to be greater. The reinstatement of the portraits to their original home in Peckham is, we believe, another positive step in underlining the wealth of talent across the British black community.”
Peckham Portraits are now installed for public view at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts on Peckham Hill Street, London.