The Street Orchestra Bringing Classical Beats to Brixton
Exhibition: my portrait series showcasing the diverse young musicians of Brixton Chamber Orchestra, while celebrating Brixton’s history & present, is released with a bang.
Updated April ’22: The series is a Finalist in the Documentary Category at The AOP Awards 2022.
As a longtime Brixton resident – 20 years this autumn – I was incredibly excited to encounter Brixton Chamber Orchestra (BCO) on a marching band fundraiser in early 2021.
They were so talented and energetic as they passed down the street, that people came out of their houses to watch them and gangs of kids followed them down the street. The vision of this diverse young group of musicians just seemed to fit Brixton streets – and I immediately knew I wanted to take a series of portraits. See video below for a flavour!
Wake Up Brixton
Rocking Down to Brixton Past, Present & Future
BCO conductor & founder Matthew O’Keeffe liked the idea, so I set about shooting over the Summer Estates Tour, when the group tours Lambeth housing estates to bring a classical and contemporary repertoire to a wide audience.
At one level, my mission was simple. Capture these players and their instruments while they made music in non-traditional local spaces.
But these places also have history. With the 40th anniversary of the Brixton Riots this summer, and projects like 81 Acts of Exuberant Defiance exploring the repercussions of those events, it felt important not to create a series of outsider’s picture postcards of Brixton, but include places that resonate to those who know the area.
We shot in iconic spots like Electric Avenue, Windrush Square and at the Bowie Memorial, but also amid the bustle of local traders on Station Road and Market Row.
We went to Atlantic Road, close to the front line of the Black communities’ confrontations with the Met Police in 1981, but also to the heart of local estates like Angell Town that have been changed in quieter ways by their communities.
We captured musicians in the serenity of Brockwell Park and the Cressingham Gardens estate, but also found moments of unexpected peace and light right in the centre.
As I shot, I found I wanted to show people a Brixton they know and don’t know – to make rich, full images that were engaging portraits, while also elevate local places with a perspective or fullness of detail that shows them afresh.
Big in Brixton
Happily, BCO‘s first member event, at The Department Store in Brixton, made for a perfect moment to launch the images.
Working with marketing manage Silas Armstrong, we created a series of captions to tie the photos to their locations even more closely, and with the help of print maestro Richard Wills at another Brixton institution Photofusion, created an exhibit fit for 200+ guests.
Around performances of everything from classical to hip hop (and fusions inbetween: think rap meets The Rite of Spring), the audience of Brixtonites let us know that the shots, and the treatment of the area, passed muster.
I celebrated with – appropriately – a can of Brixton Brewery Lager!
About Brixton Chamber Orchestra
Learn about BCO’s programme of performances and events, and how to support them: https://brixchamber.com/projects