Described by historian Simon Schama as, 'a visual poet: chronicler, championof Britain's great photo-portraitists', Charlie Phillips' work is significant not just to the history of black Britain, but to British social history.
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.
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.
Described by Time Out as 'the greatest London photographer you've never heard of', Roland 'Charlie' Phillips was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1944 and grew up with his grandparents in rural St. Mary. Aged 11 he traveled to Britain to join his parents in Notting Hill and as a teenager began to document his local community.
He briefly worked in the Merchant Navy and travelled around Europe in the late 1960s settling in Italy during the 'La Dolce Vita' era in Rome. He returned to London in 70s and opened Smokey Joe's Diner in Wandsworth in 1989.
His photographs of people and places associated with Notting Hill depict both significant and everyday moments in the area's history, particularly its growing black population. They were recognised in the 1990s with the publication Notting Hill in the Sixties (1991) and as part of the Museum of London exhibition Roots to Reckoning (2005).
In 2015, Photofusion showed for the first his longterm project, How Great Thou Art. This ongoing project documents the traditions and rituals around death and funeral exhibitions of London's African Caribbean communities.
The recent 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.
On 25th March 2021 the Guardian newspaper published a major article entitled "Charlie Phillips: why did it take so long for one of Britain's greatest photographers to get his due?"
Relatively few vintage prints - either silver gelatin prints or resin coated prints - survive or were even printed and those that do are well-handled. However in recent years the negatives have been scanned and contact sheets reproduced on the new Charlie Phillips Heritage Archive website. Some of the most popular images have been published as modern prints in small editions.