Described by historian Simon Schama as, ‘a visual poet: chronicler, champion…one of Britain’s great photo-portraitists’, Charlie Phillips’ work is significant not just to the history of black Britain, but to British social history. The launch of his Archive and Website, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, marks the culmination of a painstaking and intensive project of restoring, cataloguing, and digitising Phillip’s vast collection of images, which document how everyday London life helped shape significant political and social changes between the 1960s and 80s.
Ronald ‘Charlie’ Phillips was born in 1944 in Kingston, Jamaica, arrived in the UK to join with his parents in 1955, and settled in London’s Notting Hill. A gift of a Kodak Brownie camera from an African-American serviceman began Phillips’ love of photography. Phillips has become one of Britain’s most acclaimed ‘accidental’ photographers, documenting Notting Hill’s West Indian community throughout the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. His unique photographs capture the shifting cultural landscape of Notting Hill, including racial integration and the birth of carnival, poor socio-economic conditions, musical entertainment, ‘black’ funerals and political activism. Phillips’ photographic collection provides an intimate insight into an integral part of black Britain.
Phillips’ photographs have appeared in publications such as Stern, Harpers Bazaar, Life and Vogue. His work has been exhibited at galleries across the world, including the Tate Britain, the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of the City of New York. In 2015, the importance of his work and the need for it to be shared was recognised through a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund.