Rio Blake brings us Notting Hill Carnival through photography after it was cancelled yet again

All the print sales from the London exhibition will be going to the Grenfell foundation.

27 August 2021

If you're desperate to catch just an ounce of that carnival energy that we've been starved of for the past couple of years, fear not. Although the pandemic unfortunately squashed the hopes and dreams of most live events, a charity exhibition at White City House will open this weekend to commemorate Notting Hill Carnival on its second year of cancellation. It also hopes to bring the experience back to us – if only in a more controlled, perhaps quieter setting. From this Sunday until Wednesday the 1 September, the exhibition will host names such as Carnival regular Sophie Jones, Vicky Grout and Blake herself.

Blake, the curator of the show and a London-based photographer, says she really wanted to highlight the sounds of carnival through DJs as well as “all the amazing food.” These two elements are what she believes automatically bring people together. To hone in on this aspect which people may be missing, a Caribbean kitchen takeover by Mama's Jerk will be selling food during the opening event of the exhibition – “so people can experience the tastes of carnival along with the sounds and visuals.”

Most of the photographers Blake knows personally and admires. She tells us that carnival is oftentimes the highlight of the London summer for a street photographer – with its unmissable scenes, high energy, and all the love, joy and cultural cohesion. So she wanted to bring that back to not only the photographers missing it from both this year’s and last year’s summers, but for the public who haven’t been able to attend.

Blake hopes that through the exhibit, she is “showing that photography is inclusive and can be enjoyed by everyone.” She continues that she’d love “to feel excited from the exhibition and help people to look forward to the next carnival we get.”


Wings (Copyright © Javanie Stephens)

The photographer admits that what she misses most about the event is getting to take photos of it. Holly-Marie Cato, another photographer involved in the exhibition, claims that she misses “the coming together; I miss celebrating Caribbean culture with 1.5 million people from all different ages, cultures, backgrounds. I miss dancing along a street playing soca and hitting another blaring Beenie Man or jungle. I miss the freedom and joy of people gathering that carnival creates.”

Photographer Alex Kourdoullou says he misses “Red Stripe and vibes” the most. But also, “the unique atmosphere and energy that carnival has. It’s a celebration of culture and diversity rolled into an enormous street party. I miss the experience of the occasion, and it’s a massive shame that it’s been cancelled the last two summers.”

Sophie Jones misses “the energy!” she exclaims. It’s what she thinks is the very essence of what makes London “the greatest city in the world. There is nothing better than walking into the roaring crowds and feeling the bass run through you and the smell of the food hitting you. You can’t really articulate it until you experience it yourself first hand.”

You can attend the exhibition at White City House from the 29 August until the 1 September. You can enjoy DJ Tiorrr from 1pm until late if you manage to catch the opening night on Sunday.


Fly Your Flag (Copyright © Holly-Marie Cato)


(Copyright © Isaac J Cambridge)


(Copyright © Matt Stuart)


(Copyright © Rio Blake)


(Copyright © Rio Blake)


A Sister in Red (Copyright © Holly-Marie Cato)


Amira (Copyright © Javanie Stephens)

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An Ode to Carnival photographs (Copyright © Rio Blake and contributing photographers)

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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