Sunday, August 21, 2005

Independent on Sunday: Halfway to Paradise

Golden sands, swaying palms, whitewashed picket fences... a new photography project will make you see the streets of Brixton in a whole new light, says Keith Laidlaw.

London can be a confusing place to live sometimes. Its seven million residents hail from every corner of the globe and together speak over 300 different languages. Taken as a whole, it is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, but each small area within this huge urban spread has its own peculiar mix of cultures and sense of identity.

Chris Anderson and Alison Locke decided to explore one example of this in their local area of Brixton. They commissioned three artists to paint large Caribbean-style backdrops which they took out on to the streets: to the market on Electric Avenue; to some of the area's many churches; and to the closest thing Brixton has to a beach, Brockwell Park lido. They were inspired by the way small photography studios often use exotic backgrounds to add glamour to family portraits, but here the paintings instead highlight connections and contrasts between Brixton and the West Indies.

The resulting photographs are individually charming, but together form a unique portrait of an area with a complicated history of migration and assimilation. "Although Brixton is a strong Afro-Caribbean area, there is incredible diversity," explains Locke. "We photographed white people, Columbians, Eastern Europeans, Afghanis..."

The artists are now collating their photographs for an exhibition, and planning an opening night party to which everyone they photographed is invited. "Because it's a community project, we wanted to allow the people to get something back and so everyone receives a photograph of themselves." says Locke. "We're hoping that as many people as possible will come along to pick up their own picture, but also reflect on how it fits in with this mass of photographs about their own community."

'Brixton Street Studio' will be showing from 8 September until 7 October at the 198 Gallery, Railton Road, London SE24