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Igniting memories

A Brent-born photographer, who took pictures of the Irish community as well as the Afro-Caribbean community in Brent in the late 1980s/ early 1990s, is seeking people he took pictures of 30 years ago for an exhibition in Willesden next year.

He would like to give those featured a print and to re-photograph them 30 years on.

Roy Mehta documented the lives of the community in Brent from 1989 to 1993.

In 2019 Roy received a 2020 Culture Fund grant to develop the unique and evocative collection to showcase the pictures as part of the London Borough of Culture Brent 2020.

In January his book Revival was published by Hoxton Mini Press which is the foundation of his exhibition.

Now film-makers intend to make a short film about the project as it reunites subjects with snapshots of their past.

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Roy told The Irish World: “I am looking for some of the people who are in the images as I want to give them a print and re-photograph them for a short film being made as well as an exhibition of the work, which is being launched at Willesden Library next year.

“I would love to re-photograph them and reunite them with the original photographs.

“It’s about time passing and what has happened in their lives in the last 30 years. It’s their stories.

“When I became a photographer around my early 20s I spent several years making photographs of people in this wonderful multi-faith and multi-ethnic community.

“The photographs are time travel and are of adults being baptised, portraits of young and old people standing in the street and in churches.”

Roy grew up in Kenton and Wembley. He was a young photographer when he was welcomed into both the Irish and Afro-Caribbean communities to photograph their activities at home, in the street and at church.

“I had a connection to Brent so when I became a photographer, I wanted to make some work in that area.

“I grew up in Wembley and my dad worked in Harlesden so it just made sense to document that area and also, it’s an area that hasn’t really been photographed that much in terms of projects and such.

“I started walking around the streets and people did invite me into their homes and gospel halls and churches and that kind of thing. It just grew from there.

“I spent four or five years working in the area and then I put the pictures to rest, then with the London Borough of Culture Brent 2020 there was a big resurgence of interest in them and that resulted in the book and the show next March.

“I was a really young guy walking around with a camera, I was only about 21, I was quite young and it was just an amazing thing to work on. I really enjoyed that time there and I never really expected the sort of interest the pictures have evoked.”

Roy has already had people get in touch after recognizing themselves in the book.

“The book came out in January and since then I’ve had a few people coming forward and the film makers have got involved as well.

“I’ve had so many messages from people who have bought the book and from all around the world actually: Australia, America, people who lived in the area and have moved and saw the book so it’s been really nice, it’s been really lovely to just reignite people’s memory.

“It’s ignited people’s memories of a place that hasn’t been represented that much in terms of photography.”

Roy thought of it as showing the people of Brent rather than any particular culture within the borough.

“To me it was just people that I was familiar with from living in Brent. I didn’t think, ‘I’m going to spend a certain amount of time with the Irish community’, it was just something that grew very organically.

“Of course, there was a huge Irish presence at the time and that forms part of it.

“All I wanted to do was make a record of people coming together.

“To me it’s a celebration of a particular place in London that hasn’t gained as much recognition as it should do.

“It was a celebration of community and about celebrating the heritage of Brent.”

Revival contains a foreword by Dr Mark Sealy MBE, director of Autograph, the Association of Black Photographers.

He said: “A preacher addresses his congregation, a child dozes at a family gathering, a young man fixes an elder’s buttonhole.

“People across the generations embrace, seem to comfort each other, explode with laughter and take a sombre pause for reflection.

“Each photo is beautifully evocative of a vanished era.”

The exhibition of the photographs will open from March 15 to May 15 2022 at The Exhibition Space, Willesden Green Library Centre.

If you recognise yourself, friends, uncles, grandmas contact Roy at roymehta.com or Instagram @roymehta.

The photobook ‘REVIVAL, LONDON 1989-1993′ is available to buy from hoxtonminipress.com/products/revival.

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