In 2017, Tamara Stoll and Andrew Woodyatt were introduced to Andrew Denney who, together with publisher and designer Max Leonard digitised all the pictures in this book and many more and some wrote essays about aspects of the Rio Tape Slide News Group (RTSNG) and also got people to contribute their memories and thoughts. . They met Sandra Hooper, who had been part of the RTSNG and began their exploration of and research into the archives discovered in the basement of the Rio Cinema on the Kingsland Road in Dalston. The RTSNG itself had originated from ideas inculcated at the CENTREPRISE BOOKSHOP which in its turn took its lead from the Hackney Education Institute. They interviewed people who were part of the RTSNG also actually interviewing some of the people shown in some of these photographs from the 1980s.
This is a book about local people and the power and abilities they can utilise and wield as a local community, standing up to injustices brought upon them by the government of the day, through police actions and government policies. The book is about personal belief, finding talents they would never have otherwise discovered within themselves, building confidence and showing the world that they have a voice and can be proactive and carry out actions which are beneficial not only to themselves as individuals but the community as a whole. Ultimately these people and their actions portrayed in this book show that supposedly ordinary poor people are as strong and can be as powerful as any so called elite.
Three young men in hackney in the 1980s.Solidarity.
If anything this book and all the things it represents, local community action, local issues and its links to national issues and international issues, provides a fantastic example of what a community can do together. The important aspect is, indeed, doing things together. A community can do so much more than an individual can. This book represents a great example of community action. We need more of it now, in this present time of crisis more than ever. We must fight against all the top down rules and restrictions that are being forced on us by government during this COVID 19 pandemic. The more and more centralised government, organised from Downing Street, tells us what to do the more individuals are crushed and broken. It would be very interesting to find out, if ,like good child centred teaching practice , our governance could grow from the individual first, leading to community action based on community needs. The government would then take a lead from the local level. We might discover that we could deal with this pandemic much better at a granular level.
So after thirty years of being hidden in the depths of the RIO cinema basement, the grey filing cabinet with the Rio Tape Slide Newsreel Groups work was rediscovered. Within the book that Alan Denney has put together there are a number of articles by various contributors, including Alan Denney himself. They are printed on yellow paper so by looking along the edges of the closed book it is easy to see where contributing articles are located. Their yellow edges stand out from the white.
Alan Denney provides an article that sets out the influences and theories , philosophical and political, that underlie the RTSNG’s work back in the 1980s. His article starts with a quotation from Allan Sekula “Photography Politics: One 1979,” which encapsulates what the RIO and the RTSNG with ideas instigated at the Centerprise Bookshop, were doing.
“I’m arguing for an art that documents monopoly capitalism’s inability to deliver the conditions for a fully human life.”
Centreprise the radical local bookshop in Hackney from which so many ideas and radical actions emanated.
The RTSNG emerged from a counterculture in the 1960s. Young people wanted to change society from below, the grass roots. They were able to organise themselves through the RTSNG project and also education programmes set up across the road from the RIO cinema at the Centerprise Bookshop.
Centerprise was a bookshop on Kingsland High Street that sold books by new radical writers, pamphlets and noticeboards provided information, there were meeting rooms, legal advice was given and classes were held.
Changing society from below based on individual and community needs connects with another philosophy the RTSNG and Centerprise promoted and that was the ideas about education that Ivan Illich promoted, the idea of ,”deschooling.” Ivan Illich published his book "Deschooling Society," in which he describes an educational model where the child chooses what to learn while the adult guides and supports them. Illich thought that traditional education, where children must follow a unique curriculum kills curiosity and creativity, not allowing for the development of soft skills. He promoted what we might call child centred education. That process in our schools today is controlled and guided which is necessary depending on the needs of the child. Some sort of guidance and skills training is needed even with a ,”deschooling,” policy. From my own experiences, teaching for over forty years, I know that a myriad of rich experiences need to be provided. Human beings need to interact with the world and need a rich mixture of textures experiences before they can ask questions and feel the need to explore. They need to be inspired.
The RTSNG and Centreprise also used the ideas about engaging with society that Paolo Freire advocated. He thought we should look more at society around us, identify issues and link this to positive action for change.. They also connected with Richard Hoggart and his development of cultura studies and also with Chris Searle who was involved with race relations and social justice. All these elements can be seen in the work of the RIO Tape/Slide Shows work. These ideas naturally grow from the needs of people.
Centerprise, under these influences moved from a more traditional set of adult education classes for the unemployed to more radical ideas about the role of education. such as teaching Black History, Afro Brazilian music lessons, Graphics, which could be used to create posters and signs promoting the activities that went on, working with children and many other culturally and socially literate courses.
The Hackney Adult Education Institute was a driving force in promoting radical revolutionary education too and instigated and supportedmany of the ideas, Centerprise and the Rio project undertook. The whole movement in Hackney,, if that is the right term, was underpinned by a deep theoretical and grass roots need for action.
The archives include 10,000 glass mounted slides and 2000 frames on film strips from between 1981 to 1988, covering seven years. They were photographed using SLR cameras on 35mm colour slide film.
The people who took these photographs and created this valuable archive were young unemployed locals . Older members of the community, especially women were involved in other aspects of action in Hackney too becoming news reporters and journalists producing their own newspaper.
The older generation got active in Hackney too.
Many of the radical ideas about the use of photography came from the published works of Jo Spence and Terry Dunnet. Jo Spence used her camera to shoot and expose cultural issues. A new name emerged which described her work and which encapsulates the essence of this sort of photography. She was called a ,” cultural sniper.”
Tape slide projects had emerged previously in Manchester and in other parts of London, Blackfriars and Paddington. Instructions on how to use this tape slide process were available from these other ventures. The Half Moon Photography Workshops in Bethnal Green and their magazine Camerawork developed ideas about using film and tape. They had a feature article in one of their magazines explaining how to do it.
Members of the RIO Tape Slide group.
Michael Rosen wrote a forward to this book during the Summer of 2020. He was recovering from a near death experience with Covid 19.Which of course itself brings up questions about an unfair and unequal society which is going to have to be addressed and politicians are going to have to answer for in the aftermath of the pandemic, but for now we are dealing with the 1980s, the effects of Thatcherism, poverty and community action then. Michael Rosen recalls the time he lived in Hackney during the 1980s and recalls his support for campaigns on educational issues which of course has been his life’s work through his writing especially his poetry, children’s books and articles for teachers union magazines such as EDUCATE. He also recalls the vibrant community he was part of and its strength derived from community involvement. He has a fondness and attachment to the people of Hackney although he doesn’t live there anymore.
Derelict buildings in Hackney. Squatters moved in.
The Rio Tape Slide Archive book starts with an introductory section, “Beginnings,” introducing many of the people who were part of that original project, with short personal biographies. Here are some comments made by a few of the group.
Felicity Harvest was the Rio Coordinator. Ramsey Cameron was the film programmer. John Paish the projectionist. Some of those people whose lives were changed and given a purpose in life include, Sandra Hooper an RTSNG leader. They all provide comments on what they were doing at the time.
Sandra Hooper states,
“ Annette Giles was the instigator- she was the person from Hackney Education Institue (HAEI) … who approached me at Centreprise with a view to creating this new project at the RIO. It came out of the Young Photographers Group and Hackney Unemployed Media Scheme(HUMS) and the RIO was very much a community cinema. At Centreprise. Community involvement was the whole essence of Centreprise”
The RIO, on The Kingsland Road.
Barbara Schulz was an original RTSNG member.
“ I started the Young Photographers and then I became part of HUMS…., making a magazine. Many of us from the group joined Sandra at the RIO and became part of the newsreel group, doing news, taking photos, deciding on what stories we wanted.”
BB was interviewed about her role. (She doesn’t want her name revealed.)
“ At the time I never really wanted to be a photographer. That wasn’t my ambition. I always wanted to be a journalist, even when I was young. But I went to a really duff school……….For me the journalism was why I joined the group. I felt it was about learning a little bit of how to tell other peoples stories…….You felt it had real purpose.”
Dalston in the 1980s.
What comes across in these interviews is the agency these people feel and the opportunities to have a voice and through the RTSNG the group develop a force for change in their community. By recording and writing about what is going on in their community they themselves and others, reading and seeing their work can think about the good and bad things taking place and this gives them the energy to act and do something about it. It makes me feel that all communities, wherever you are, should be creating this grass roots up wards approach to local needs. Is this a political act? Probably, but it is the sort of politics that should be happening everywhere.
The other thing that becomes clear is that these people from poor backgrounds, some thought that they hadn't had the educational advantages of others, which indeed was true, could act and carry out actions that society as a whole often feel is the work of the privileged who go to public schools and the top universities. The people of Hackney are just as capable of observing and commenting on their own community and are far more engaged in the needs of local people than anybody from a wealthy background and posh education reporting for the TIMES or the TELEGRAPH could possibly be. I think that ordinary working class people could run this country much better than the so called, “POSH elite.” We would all be better off.
A march to stop an extension of the M11 coming through Hackney.
That opening part of the book also gives an overview of Hackney in the 1980s.
“When the RTSNG first met, Margeret Thatcher was surfing the wave of success in the polls after the Falklands War…… but the combination of decades of neglect and Conservative policies were hitting Hackney hard.”
Here are some more important interviews with people connected to the RTSNG and their memories of life in the 1980s in Hackney.
Evaline Marius (poet, youth and mental health worker RTSNG collaborator)
“It was a very discontented era, with people disillusioned, frustrated, angry.”
“I grew up in the 1960’s and there were big changes in terms of immigration into the borough by the 1980s but the fundamentals didn’t really change. It was always a place of, sounds corny, but a place of struggle and violence.”
Guy Farrar photographer and Centreprise worker.
“It was fantastically vibrant, active, a lot of social movements lots of people campaigning for change.”
A photograph of the RIO in the early 1980s depicts red and white stripes down the front of the building and to one side, red and white colour features with giant black lettering picking out the name RIO. The building certainly stood out from its Victorian, grey London Brick built terraces either side. Enter the RIO and you came across avante garde films, a powerhouse of ideas for the community to get socially engaged, a hub for the local people to express their viewpoints about where they lived and to plan action to bring about change. A place where people could learn how to make their voice heard and where they learned that strength came from group solidarity.
A photograph of five young members of the tape slide group shows them leaning against what looks like a FORD Capri with a white paint job and a red underside and red wheel hubs.The colours of the RIO. Two of them look at the camera determined and sure of themselves. Another two laugh and chat unconcerned about the photograph being taken. Unemployed youths, given the power to act, given a voice. They are together.
Many of the photographs throughout this book show groups of people. A picture on the front cover, for instance, shows three young men standing outside Dalston Kingsland Station, confident , cheeky looks on their faces. A certain bravura about them, facing the world together. A strong group pf young men in attitude and ambition. Another picture on the front shows a group of happy, vibrant women standing up for the NHS, together, smiles, laughter, determination, placards and strength. There is a certain joy in their collaboration. They are in it together. These three photographs depict powerfully what the work at the RIO and at Centreprise was doing. It was empowering people.
The government wanted to close some of Hackneys hospitals.
Each section that follows is a,”News Round Up,” for a given year.
“1983 NEWS ROUND UP.”
The tape slide show review group covered such issues as ,”The Death of Colin Roach,” a young black man killed with a shot gun in the foyer of Stoke Newington Police Station. They wanted to know, what happened. They wanted answers which were not forthcoming from the police.
Government policies were threatening the life of many in Hackney at the time. “The Save Hackney,” campaign was begun.
Four hospitals closed in Hackney during the 1980s. The Rio project covered this Hackney emergency.
There was a protest against the M11 motorway link road that was destined to go through Hackney and destroy its heart.
The GLC funded a lot of cultural organisations which developed in Hackney but spending cuts eventually destroyed these important organisations.
RTSNG was directly funded by Hackney Adult Education Institute and they financed other projects working with older people and minority groups. These all suffered under Tory cuts. One particularly amazing project was the,” Hackney Pensioners Press.”
Julia Bard in The Morning Star wrote about the Hackney Pensioners Press.
“ What they brought was knowledge of how to get things done, courage derived from a lifetime of political struggle, an understanding of how to work collectively, and a burning anger at injustice.”
Heavy handed police action.
In 1983 the Sandringham Road Police incident was covered by the newsreel group.The police had developed a new tactic using dogs along with the unfair stop and search tactics they were using at the time, which were biased against balck youths and black people generally. The photos taken by the group were used by the local MP in Parliament to highlight the issue.
The Stop the City protest was a demonstration that was targeted at was perceived as the greed of the city and the unfairness and divisions in society.
“One Day In Hackney,” was a newsreel project about showing Hackney to Hackney, shops, parks, streets, housing, working environments and as always groups of people together. Felicity Harvest, who worked at the RIO thought up the idea,
“One Day Off in Hackney, involved forty or fifty people. We gave a film to everybody involved and they went out…”
Youngsters in Hackney.
1984 News Round Up.
During 1984, the first anniversary of Colin Roaches death is membered and the campaign to find out what really happened continued.There was a capign against The Police Bill. There were anti apartheid protest. The Hasbudak family was deprted back to Turkey by the Home Office. The poel of Hackney and the headmistress of the school the Hasbudak children attended got involved. There was The Hackney Women's Peace Camp campaigning against Greenham Common and the presence of the American nuclear deterrent on British soil went on.
The people campaigning in Hackney for the rights of Hackney people realise that wider issues such as deportations and Greenham Common were all part of the same social and economic struggle and so they got involved attacking injustices as a whole.
Saving Hackney, saving the world.
Centreprise as a community hub for action and education reopened in 1984. One Dya Off in hackney was recorded. St leonards Hospital was closed The vibrant life and people of Kingsland Market was featured. The people of Hackney supported the miners strike.
1985 News Round Up.
The work of the group began the year with the second anniversary of Colin Roaches death.. Hackney Book Bus was featured, Music and Dance in hackney was featured. There was a lot of cultural cross overs, South African, Jamaican, sound systems, parties and clubs such as the Four Aces, dance groups and drama groups. Hackney was a vibrant grass roots creative community.
Remembering Colin Roach.
Ridley Market was featured which might have been a source for EastEnders. The AIDS pandemic was researched. Rate Capping became a big issue. The government wanted to restrict the taxes local authorities could charge because they thought they were overspending. This resulted in less services in Hackney and an attack on community action groups such as the RIO and Centreprise. The RIO project looked at Hackney shops and community sports. They really did try to cover every aspect of Hackney Life.
1986-88 News Round Up.
In the final years of The Rio Tape Slide Newsreel Group the participants didn’t hold back in their campaigning and observational efforts. They covered the Albert Town Butteriled area being demolished and rebuilt for gentrification. Hackney CND group was featured. Hoxton Street Market was covered and life in the area, pubs, the Traveller Community The Hackney Empire and the advertisements put up with the slide shows, for local businesses and trades which many people actually complained about.
Squatting was was an issue and all the housing issues related to squatting, the attitude and actions of the council the views of the squatters and the underlying need for good housing for local people. The Save Hackney Campaign was bolstered by the release of a hip hop number ,”Fighting for Survival.” The Broadwater Farm protest was covered . Cynthia Jarret died of a heart attack during a police search of her home on the estate. During the ensuing riot PC Keith Blakelock was murdered. Life in Hackney Housing estates was covered. Regeneration of the area, the Dalston Cycle Path Campaign, Green Hackney and The Great Storm in October 1987.
Travellers in Hackney.
The Tape Slide Newsreel Group eventually disbanded in 1988.
Ramsey Cameron, who helped with programming the issues the group covered said,
“ As Thatcherism permeated local government and society the levels of subsidy started to decline…….
There was a decline in community organisation and perhaps a general sense of declining community identity as the gentrification of Hackney started to take hold.”
Flower stall in Hackney Market.
There definitely seems to be a resurgence at the moment in an interest in Hackney and Dalston. Maybe it is considered a litmus test not only for Black Lives Matter but also what is happening to the poorer sections of our society and also the pressures on immigrants and immigration more broadly? The Rio Tape/Slide book, recalling radical community photography in Hackney in the 1980s and powerful campaigning groups set up in those years, was published earlier this year. Recently I read a couple of articles in The Guardian about community initiatives in Hackney taking place right now in 2020. The Guardian’s Camera Club Monthly Assignment covered street markets and the Guardians Jill Mead went out and photographed Ridley Road Market for the paper. In The Guardian on Sunday 13th December Lorenzo Vitturi also did a study of Ridley Road. He took pictures but also interviewed people and recorded their viewpoints.
“ I wanted to capture Ridley Road market, its edgy dynamic.”
He set out to record what he called it’s ,”crazy aesthetic.”
The result is a collection of pictures he calls, “ Dalston Anatomy.” Asurreal expression of what he encountered.
“ In Vitturi’s images, surreal organic shapes hang suspended against eye dazzlingly bright backgrounds, human Faces are obliterated by small explosions of chalk and pigment, yams and sugar cane are arranged in creative like organic sculptures.”
Another article is written by Patrick Bulter this time. They seem to be coming thick and fast about Hackney.
“I was amazed to meet the London teens recording the vivid lives of their streets.” Just like the RIO Tape/Slide Group in fact. This time these youths have been given the impetus by a lady called Donna Travis who has founded, “Future Hackney’s Youth Project.”
The photgraphs and interviews are published on social media. Technology has moved on since the 1980’s and ashould imagine all you need to produce photographs and text is your mobile phone.An outdoor exhibiton of this groups photgraphs ahs benn set up. People walking past in the street can engage with it.
Tapiwa Cronin, 15 yaers of age who is a member of Furute Hackney staes, “ The Ridley Road community is so much part of my daily life, but through learning about its’ history, this workshop truly showed me the enduring importance of the road.”
Donna Travis who set up Future Hackney three years ago, states,
“If you take young people out and get them physically engaged with their community for positive reasons they learn to create pathways for themselves. It gives confidence, the ability to create their own identity. It widens their horizons, gives them the bigger picture.”
Looking for jobs.
Recapping on what the original RIO project achieved and did for the people of Hackney in the 1980s I would say she is absolutely right about now and also then. The whole thing about The RIO Tape Slide Archives, reveals how people can think about and observe their own circumstances, where they live and what happens to them and then make decisions about what needs to be done. Reading through this book and looking at the photographs a raw energy to fight for your needs and rights leaps off the pages. Hackney has become, once again, a source of political action, its people are getting involved in their surroundings. Anybody who takes a photograph and gets involved in group action can bring change.
This book is an amazing historical document that should and can inspire.
The RIO Tape/Slide Archive ( Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 1980s) Isola Press London published October 2020. ISBN 978-0-9954886-6-3
Lorenzo Vitturi: 'I wanted to capture Ridley Road market's edgy dynamic' | Photography | The Guardian
Do go back to Dalston: Ridley Road market's black heritage – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian
Mind the gap: 2 metres apart and masked in Hackney – a photo essay | Art and design | The Guardian
'I was amazed': meet the London teens recording the vivid lives of their streets | Society | The Guardian