On Thursday 11th August 2011, I went down to the Pop Up Cinema in Labdroke Gorve to support Charlie Phillips. This unique venue was a good choice for the unique Charlie Phillips. At the event, Charlie was screening the documentary Rootical, a documentary about his life by Nike Hatzidimou and winner of Best First Film at the Portobello Film Festival. There were a number of people in attendance including the film director Horace Ove, photographer Neil Kenlock, David Chen and Ishmahil Blagrove.
Who is Charlie Phillips?
Charlie Phillips was born in Kingston, Jamaica and came to Notting Hill in 1956 where he grew up against a background of hostility and prejudice in a part of London where racism, Rachmanism, rioting and sus laws, affected many people. When he was eleven he was given a Kodak Brownie by a black American serviceman and started snapping his friends and neighbours, particularly from the Caribbean Community. He developed the pictures in the bath at home, late at night when his parents had gone to bed. They were only too glad that he was not out on the streets at night and in any danger.
As a young man he travelled all over Europe. In 1968/9 he took photographs of the student riots in Paris and Rome. He had his first exhibition in Milan in 1972 where he showed photographs portraying the frustrations and difficulties of urban migrant workers. Much of his work, at that time and later, was published in magazines such as Stern, Harper’s Bazaar, Life and Vogue as well as Italian and Swiss journals. Later Charlie admits to being a bit of a paparazzo and managed to take pictures of people like Gina Lollobrigida, Omar Sharif and later Mohammed Ali. One of his great regrets is the loss of his Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix pictures. He says they are out there somewhere!
On his return to London his camera gathered dust whilst he earned a living in the restaurant business, running the wonderful Smokey Joe’s Diner in Wandsworth. His instincts for photography were re-fired after his collection of photographs of Notting Hill were rediscovered lying battered and forgotten beneath his bed and recognised as a vivid and personal record of life and times that have long gone. In 1991 these were exhibited at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, which coincided with the launch of his book Notting Hill in the Sixties in which Charlie’s photographs are shown alongside text by Mike Phillips with oral testimonies of many who remember those times.
Charlie’s images are full of the atmosphere of that time. Here are photographs of slum housing, of children on the streets, of traders, of funerals, of churchgoers, of shebeens and of the ordinary lives of people, black and white, who lived and worked in and around areas of the Grove and Portobello. In spite of hardship and poverty their faces tell us of spirit and humanity.