1980s Hackney Captured In These Vibrant Photos

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1980s Hackney Captured In These Vibrant Photos


From One Day Off in Hackney, 1984 © Rio Cinema Archive

“This is the city. In the city there are many stories, and the Rio is one of these.” Thus runs the founding manifesto of the Rio Tape/Slide Newsreel Group.

Something rather groundbreaking was brewing in 1982: the Rio in Dalston — London’s first community-led cinema — gave a group of Hackney residents some recording equipment, so they could capture local life — which would then be played in as short films before the main screening. As one contributor put it, this was a reinvention of those Pathé News reels of old.

From One Day in Hackney, 1983. © Rio Cinema Archive

The Rio Tape/Slide Newsreel Group (RTSNG), as they became known, went on to capture an East End that was as vivacious as it was angry; and as community-led as it was stratified. This was an era of rampant anti-Thatcher protests; and great racial unrest following incidents such as the death of Colin Roach. But the 80s was also a time when Dalston’s Ridley Road Market flourished, reggae and hip-hop were going mainstream, and fairgrounds and street parties still had a genuine village feel about them.

Stoke Newington after the Great Storm, 1987 © Rio Cinema Archive

Hardly any of the reels remain, but what has been saved are frames from many of these films, which were rediscovered in 2016 by film producer, photographer and artist, Andrew Woodyatt.

They bring what we sometimes perceive as a drab, ashen time, into vivid colour. And they now feature in the book, The Rio Tape Slide Archive: Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 80s.

From One Day Off in Hackney, 1984 © Rio Cinema Archive

Here is a mesmerising juxtaposition of photos, which bottles the kinetic, capricious energy of Hackney at that time: A young black man is stopped and searched on Kingsland High Road, as two police dogs watch on. Fair-goers and a local bobby team up to push an ice cream van out of the mud at the Hackney Show. A group of travellers warm themselves by a wheelbarrow fire on Hackney Marshes. Two elderly ladies load up on cans of Skol, for (we presume) a do. Cheeky youngsters perform street acrobatics in front of the camera.

As actor Zawe Ashton writes in her forward to the book: “My Hackney was multi-generational, multi-ethnic. it was its own country, it seemed, its own planet.”

Joyce Allen on her imitation flower stall; her sister Daphne Allen sold fresh flowers on Ridley Road, as did their mother Ada © Rio Cinema Archive

The sound and movement may be lost from the Rio’s images, but the stills from them are so alive, you can almost fill in the sensory gaps in your head.

Says Felicity Harvest, the coordinator at the Rio at the time, “It was politically an exciting but frustrating time… apart from the odd Ken Loach film, the vast majority of the medium of cinema presented a straightforwardly capitalist perspective, with often very dubious values in terms of women in particular.”

Ridley Road Market, 1985 © Rio Cinema Archive

Poverty is a recurring theme in the images: a colliery brass band marches through Stoke Newington High Street to raise money for striking miners, while cars are left stripped as part of a pavement car workshop on the Stonebridge Estate in Haggerston — which was demolished soon after the picture was taken.

The Gibbons department store on Amhurst Road, which sold furniture and toys. It burned down in 2003 © Rio Cinema Archive

These images also tell the story of London’s indefatigable ability to fight for what’s right — even if it takes a while; all those placards demanding an end to police injustice, NHS cuts and corrupt government will feel very familiar to today’s protestors.

© Rio Cinema Archive

As for the collection’s most endearing pictures, they might just come from the projects One Day in Hackney (1983) and its follow up, One Day Off in Hackney (1984). As Felicity Harvest remembers, “The idea was very much ‘let’s show Hackney to Hackney’.

These everyday portraits of east Londoners going about their daily lives — cabbies filling up their taxis, kids swinging off bus stops — are the kinds of snapshot that perhaps say the most about us, but which we rarely bother to capture along the way.

Driving west under the A12 on Wick Road © Rio Cinema Archive
Stoke Newington Festival, 1983. © Rio Cinema Archive
Another stop-and-search with dogs of a young black man on Kingsland High Street, c.1983 © Rio Cinema Archive
Two Members of the Hackney Pensioners Press © Rio Cinema Archive
Kingsland High Street, 1984 © Rio Cinema Archive
From One Day in Hackney, 1983 © Rio Cinema Archive
From One Day Off in Hackney, 1984 © Rio Cinema Archive
‘Stop the City’ protest, September 1983 © Rio Cinema Archive
The annual Hackney Show on Hackney Downs © Rio Cinema Archive
‘Stop the City’ protest, September 1983 © Rio Cinema Archive
Mr Music, Kingsland High Street © Rio Cinema Archive
The Hackney Empire in its Mecca Bingo incarnation, 1983 © Rio Cinema Archive
The Hackney Book bus, 1985 © Rio Cinema Archive
Protests were rife in the City during the 1980s © Rio Cinema Archive
Hackney CND highlight the sale of UK lamb contaminated by radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, 1986 © Rio Cinema Archive
Street art is nothing new © Rio Cinema Archive
The annual Hackney Show on Hackney Downs © Rio Cinema Archive
Members of the Tape/Slide Newsreel Group and friends on Kingsland High Street © Rio Cinema Archive
Pavement car workshop outside Clarissa House on the Stonebridge Estate, Haggerston, which was
demolished in 1985 © Rio Cinema Archive
From St Leonard’s Hospital Closure Protest and Occupation showreel, 6 July 1984 © Rio Cinema Archive
© Rio Cinema Archive
From One Day Off in Hackney, 1984 © Rio Cinema Archive
Hackney Marshes in the mid to late 80s © Rio Cinema Archive
Nurses talk over coffee and cigarette, taken from the One Day in Hackney project. © Rio Cinema Archive
Members of the Tape/Slide Newsreel Group and friends outside the Rio © Rio Cinema Archive

The Rio Tape Slide Archive: Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 80s is available to buy, RRP £26.

Check out more images on the Instagram account @riocinemaarchive and the Rio Cinema Archive website.

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