Dennis Morris: Growing Up Black

The Celebrated Music Photographer Shares his Thoughts on Life in the East End

Superfly soulbrothers and a Pentecostal congregation in their Sunday best reveal the striking style of 60s and 70s east London life in these snapshots from photographer Dennis Morris. Celebrated for his iconic images of Bob Marley and British musicians such as Marianne Faithful, the Sex Pistols and The Stone Roses, the precocious Morris began by documenting the local black community in his home town of Hackney, with one of his photographs of a P.L.O. rally published on the front page of the national Daily Mirror newspaper when he was aged just 11. “It was a very vibrant place that was all about music and community,” recalls Morris of the London borough. “Even though living conditions weren’t fantastic, there was a lot of joy, optimism and hope around at that time. It was a very inspiring place.” Morris’s pictures have appeared in the likes of GQ, i-D, Vogue, Rolling Stone, and V Magazine, and his work is featured in the permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The photographer's historic east London snapshots are gathered in Growing Up Black, a limited-edition book to be released by Autograph ABP later this month. Here, Morris talks to NOWNESS about the Hackney of yesteryear.  

If you lived in Hackney in the 70s… 
People shied away from you when you told them. If you got into a taxi and said you wanted to go Hackney, they just told you, “Nah, we’re not going that way man.” 

And now…
It’s cool, isn’t it? When I was growing up, it wasn’t cool to have a cockney accent. Now people who don’t come from Hackney put one on. Now it’s cool to have an east end accent, it’s cool to have an east end address.

The best boozer back in the day was… 
The Four Aces. It was the coolest spot in the black scene, but it was also a very dangerous spot. It wasn’t too cool to be flashing cameras there, so I never took photos. Once you were in there you hung out with major musicians like Smokey Robinson, if he was in London, and next to him might be some gangster. Anybody who’s anybody would go down there. I’m not saying Mick Jagger went down but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. It was just one of those spots. 

The now-hip London Fields area was… 
The epicenter of the skinhead scene. There were a lot of black skinheads as well as white skinheads, everybody around that period was wearing sheepskin coats, mohair suits and pork-pie hats. That was the theme. It’s not what people envision what skinheads were about, in the sense of racism. It was all about the music, the look and the clothes—it was a great time.

If Hackney was a band… 
It would be a combination of Lenny Kravitz, Eddy Grant, Bob Marley and The Specials. Hackney was all about style, cool, confidence—and they all have a take on that.

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