For more than three decades from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, Albert organised and documented numerous black beauty pageants and other cultural events in London, while building up a portfolio of photographs of aspiring models. His long and successful career as a promoter and chronicler of pageants included the establishment of Miss Black and Beautiful, Miss West Indies in Great Britain, and Miss Grenada.
These competitions celebrated the global ‘Black is Beautiful’ aesthetic of the 1970s in a local west London context: paired with the obligatory bathing costumes and high heels, Albert’s contestants often sported large Afro hairstyles, inventing and reinventing themselves on stage while articulating a particular and multifaceted black femininity as part of a widely contested and ambiguous cultural performance.
Not only did the pageants offer the opportunity to create a distinct space for Afro-Caribbean self-fashioning - a wager against invisibility in response to contemporaneous mainstream fashion and life-style platforms where black women were largely absent or at best marginal - they also represented a site to challenge conventional notions of beauty implicated in the social, cultural, and political contexts of the time. Albert’s photographs serve as testament to this profound moment of self-articulation and collective celebration in London’s pan Afro-Caribbean communities.
‘This historical archive offers a unique and fascinating collection of rarely seen photographs that document the ambivalent cultural performance of gendered and raced identities at a particular historical conjuncture. Imbued with an exquisite, revolutionary sensuality and a certain joie de vivre, Raphael Albert’s photographs embody an aura of hedonistic confidence in a new generation of black women coming of age in Britain during the 1970s, fuelled by complex cultural politics of identity, difference and desire.’ - Renée Mussai, Curator
After Raphael Albert’s death in 2009, Autograph ABP began working with his daughters Victoria Albert and Susan Ibuanokpe to preserve and promote the late photographer’s extensive collection of uncatalogued negatives and prints. A dedicated portfolio of photographs is now represented as part of Autograph ABP’s Archive & Research Centre at Rivington Place.
The exhibition features over sixty modern and vintage prints, as well as archival ephemera.