Socialist Worker

Vanley Burke’s iconic images of Birmingham

Issue No. 2604

Young men on a see-saw in Handsworth Park, 1984

Young men on a see-saw in Handsworth Park, 1984 (Pic: Vanley Burke)

It’s an iconic image. Winford Fagan in Handsworth, Birmingham, 1970.

A young black boy with his bike in Handsworth Park. He smiles nervously, one hand defiantly on his hip, the other holding onto the saddle as he balances his bike.

Vanley Burke’s black and white photographs record moments in the lives of people like himself—those who came to Britain from Jamaica in the sixties and seventies.

When the 15 year-old Vanley joined his parents in Handsworth, he became obsessed with taking photographs of the people around him.

People had been encouraged to come and fill gaps in the labour market.

Over time Burke amassed a vast collection of photographs.


He recorded events such as mobilisations of the National Front, opposed by local counter-demonstrations.

There are also informal shots of people. And there are portraits—the artist Barbara Walker, drawing and the community worker Dave Butcher, being arrested.

People in Burke’s photographs often maintain contact with him, and are invited to his exhibitions. Winford Fagan was photographed again by Burke forty years later, grieving at his son’s funeral.

These are photographs taken in an attempt to show a truer picture of ordinary people’s lives.

They form an archive of the history of the black people in Handsworth seen through their eyes.

These are the people targeted by Theresa May and Amber Rudd. They are not going anywhere. It’s the Tories who need to be sent packing.

Brenda Batts

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
10am to 5pm. Free. Until 1 July

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