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Selfies of the Seventies

MAC to display ‘Handsworth Self Portrait: 40 Years On’, a rare insight into Birmingham’s own 1979 residents and workers.

Executed in 1979, on the verge of Birmingham’s now vibrant, creative city life; this series sparks reflection on our current selfie fanatic culture with it’s ground-breaking photography style for the time.


Inviting passers-by into their street pop-up studio, photographer’s Derek Bishton, Brian Homer and John Reardonallowed the community of Handsworth to snap themselves using a controlled shutter release. With more than 500 people participating in the project – a vast range of personalities and personas from individuals, families and friends seeped through. This diversity was also reflected through a multicultural perspective which, based on the stigma at that time in the city, was a bold move, particularly highlighted through their painted project advertisement signs written in Punjabi, Urdu and English.


“For most people who took part it was just a bit of a laugh. As photographers we had a serious intent because we recognised that Handsworth, at that time, was undergoing a radical change in terms of the demographics of the area. It was really the UK’s first multicultural suburb, and we wanted to make a record of that moment and give the people a role in creating that record.” Derek Bishton.


For the project’s 40th anniversary, Midlands Arts Centre’s Arena Gallery and Café will be hosting an exhibition of the works as a dignified celebration of real Handsworth people; combining intriguing documentary with an innovative portrait style.


The collection will encompass not only 200 never-before-publicized images based on Bishton’s original negatives but 44 of Reardon’s actual prints (loaned especially for the occasion by Birmingham Museums Trust, on behalf of Birmingham City Council), as well as various vinyl enlarged portraits displayed on the interior wall of the café.


“I think one of the great joys when you look back on the self-portraits is seeing how well people of all ages and backgrounds presented themselves. How good they look.” Derek Bishton.


Whether interests lie in documentary, portraiture, fashion or a general look-back on local culture, you can view this one-of-a-kind archive for free from Saturday 23rd March – Sunday 2nd June 2019, 9am-9pm.


Words: Laura Wilcox

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