The family photographs that reframe black British history

When Tania Nwachukwu and Jojo Sonubi announced plans for an online, black British photo archive, aptly named Black In The Day (BITD), the response was overwhelmingly positive, including a notable salute from actress Thandie Newton. And it’s not surprising. As young black Britons call for more nuanced representation, BITD has come at the perfect time.

On a drizzly Saturday afternoon, Jojo and Tania buzz around Brick Lane’s Dark Sugars, welcoming those arriving at their ‘scanning social’. Prompted by a shared interest of family photos and the immigrant experiences they reveal, the pair set out to create a picture of black life from photos submitted by the public. It’s a big project. They are gathering online submissions from across the UK, dating back as far as the sepia snapshots of the 1950s up to the 2000s, and this marks first offline event for the project.

Soundtracked by nostalgia hits, contributors mingle around the bar while the team scan – you can imagine the vast quantity of photos they receive. Over 100 pictures were archived during the event and Sonubi tells me someone “brought a carrier bag full”. Nwachukwu points out, that if not for BITD, she’d be doing it anyway. “I’m big on documenting my own personal family history, and this project is just doing that on a bigger scale.” For Nwachukwu and Sonubi, it’s their way of combating monolithic representation. After all, there’s more than one way to be black and the diversity of the contributors, from Congo, to Rwanda to Jamaican and more, proved this easy enough.

The search for a perfect photo has already stirred up dialogues between contributors and their families. “Most of us see our parents as larger than life figures” says Rena, who brought a picture of her mother holding a baby cousin. “But seeing photos of them helps you realise that my parents… or this other black person went through the same thing in a different time.” Parties, trips and first-experiences are dominant themes so far, not unlike images that spatter the average Instagram feed. Although many pictures were taken long before the contributors were born, the revelation that nothing has really changed is a comforting one.

For Bernice, who discovered the project through Twitter, the archive was long overdue. “If you go to a museum you won’t see any black people but we were there”. The assumption that all black people came on the Windrush is a vexing excuse for a lack of historical representation, especially since history recorded black Britons as early as the 1100s. “I feel like we shouldn’t have to do this, but it’s nice to have”. It’s already giving her hope that other minority communities and even individuals will take note.

“It was lovely to see complete strangers sharing and comparing photos with one another,” says Tania Nwachukwu. “A sense of community was built in a very short space of time.”

For more on Black In The Day see here

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