Dennis Morris デニス・モリス
With the support of agnès b.
This exhibition is conceived as an immersive experience of the East London Caribbean diaspora from the 1960s and 70s.
After the Second World War, Britain needed to rebuild, and invited its commonwealth citizens to move to the UK. Many Jamaicans responded by immigrating to Britain in search of a better life. Those who arrived from Caribbean countries were labeled the ‘Windrush generation.’
Amongst these immigrants was Dennis Morris, who as a young boy traveled with his mother from Jamaica to London in the 1960s. Through his local church choir and his benefactor, Donald Paterson, Morris discovered photography and embarked on a remarkable journey, documenting his environment and community.
The Caribbean immigrants’ positivity, enthusiasm, and desire to succeed, despite the hardships they endured, come through powerfully in Morris’ photos. For this is the time when these Caribbean transplants went from being called ‘coloured people’ to being, defiantly and proudly, Black.
Dennis Morris デニス・モリス
Special Interview｜Dennis Morris
25th January 2023
(Interview by Sayaka Sameshima / Text by Nana Tazuke)
Turning point in life
── Could you tell us about your experience with photography?
Morris: I discovered photography when I was nine years old. It is a very magical process. At the age of 11 my first photograph was published in a major British newspaper, the Daily Mirror. Then, fortunately, I met Bob Marley when I was a teenager. I literally ran away from home to go on the road with Bob Marley. We became very good friends, and I worked with him from when I left school until he passed away. I also took all the pictures of the punk rock band Sex Pistols. Furthermore, I created the Public Image Limited logo. Well, I’ve documented many scenes.
── For Japanese people, it is probably not very easy to imagine how Black culture has historically been received and developed in British society. Let’s take one of your photographs, Growing Up Black, as an example. How could we understand British Black culture through this work?
Morris: Hackney, where I grew up, was an area in the eastern part of London, predominantly inhabited by Black people. In London, there were maybe two major Black neighbourhoods. One was Hackney, the other was Brixton. When I was a little boy in the late 1960s and 1970s, we were called ‘coloured people.’ As I got older, we became ‘Black people.’ So, the title Growing Up Black is based on that fact. With this work, I want to give people an insight into what life was like for us as a people building a community in England. We were second-generation immigrants. After schooling, we started working straight away because we didn’t want to do what our parents did, who were treated as slaves of White people. When I left school, I didn’t want to work in a factory; I wanted to be an artist. So, it was very difficult for me because there were very, very few, if any, Black artists in England at the time.
── How could you trust your dreams?
Morris: When I met Bob Marley, he told me, “Anything is possible, Dennis. All you have to do is believe in yourself, in your vision, and in your dreams.” As a Black person, that is very true. If you don’t believe in yourself, you will never make it. And that’s what I did, and now I am here, and I will continue to do it in Kyoto.
Just as I am
── What was the feedback in the UK like as a Black photographer taking pictures of Black Caribbean culture, and at the same time photographing White British bands such as Sex Pistols and The Stone Roses?
Morris: When I was working with the Sex Pistols or The Stone Roses, I never saw myself as a Black person working with a White band. I just saw myself as an artist, and that’s why I was able to get the pictures I got. I didn’t distinguish myself as such. I was just an artist, and they were very accepting of me. I never saw myself as a Black person. I knew I was Black, they knew I was Black: but I was just a photographer.
── Did the situation and the reaction change after the 1970s, 80s and 90s?
Morris: No, I think over the years, people have come to terms with the fact that I’m a Black photographer and that my culture is different. I think people are more open to the fact now. You have to realise that in music, some of the greatest music and musicians have been Black. And they always had White fans. It didn’t matter that they were Black; they just loved their music. And it is the same with me. People don’t care that I’m Black. They love my photography, and we love each other. You know, it is an exchange of love.
── So, is the reception of the UK and America so different?
Morris: America is an exceptional case. Racism in America, or race in America is always prominent. It is always at the forefront of everything in America. And until America overcomes its divisiveness, it will always have problems. America is a wonderful country, but they have to solve these problems.
No music, no life
── Music is also one of the big elements for you. KYOTOGRAPHIE has established a new music festival KYOTOPHONIE in 2023. What is music for you?
Morris: Well, music is a part of my life. No music, no life. Many people found their way in life through music, like Bob Marley for me. His music was very special, and when I met him, I found myself as a person through his music. So, music is very, very important to me. I was also a singer in a band called Basement 5.
── You also deal with the subject of music in your photography.
Morris: Yes, in the exhibition there will be many pictures of sound systems found in clubs, for example, the Count Shelly sound system.
── Tell us more about the Count Shelly sound system. Was it usually installed in the basement when people bought new houses in the late 1960s?
Morris: Basically, West Indian paid their mortgage through the sound system parties. They left the basement empty and had parties which they charged people money for. That way they could afford to pay for the houses. These parties were called ‘blues parties’ or ‘shebeen.’
── So, it means that the sound system is a very important part of their culture.
Morris: Yes, it was a very important culture. It was a way for the community to talk about their lives during the week, to get together and basically blow off steam, and to have a good time when they got together on the weekends. At that time, it was very difficult for Black people to go to clubs, because they weren’t allowed to go to any clubs or pubs that were owned by White people. The sound system at home was a way for them to entertain themselves.
── So, the sound system had a kind of social meaning?
DM: A social gathering, yeah.
Love your neighbours as you love yourself
── During the pandemic, we had to maintain social distance. This is the opposite of communities where people gather. ‘Black Lives Matter’ has also been an important attitude again since COVID-19. How do you feel about this transition we are still in?
Morris: I think after the pandemic, people became a little bit more disconnected. People became isolated from themselves. So, people find it difficult to come back together again. Because people have spent three years apart, they have to learn to come together again. It can only happen through love. To love each other, to respect each other, to respect others’ culture, way of life and thinking. And then I think people will unite again.
── Please give us your message for the visitors at KYOTOGRAPHIE.
Morris: I have always had great experiences in Japan with Japanese people. I love the culture, I love the food, I love the people, I love everything about Japan. And I really do mean that. Keep your culture, keep your history, and look forward. Stay positive. I am thrilled to be part of KYOTOGRAPHIE.
Born in 1960, British artist Dennis Morris has used his camera to produce an impressive body of work on extraordinary individuals. He took up photography at the age of 9, and at 11 had work published in the major British newspaper, the Daily Mirror. In 1974 he accompanied Bob Marley on his first UK tour.
Closely associated with music, Morris has created many iconic and memorable images of musicians, including album covers for Bob Marley, the Sex Pistols, and Marianne Faithfull. His series of photographs capturing the essence of the Sikh community of Southall, England, has been acquired by British government’s English Heritage.
Several books of his work have been published, including the photobooks Bob Marley: A Rebel Life and The Bollocks, on the Sex Pistols. His work has been exhibited around the world, including at Today Art Museum in Beijing; Laforet Museum in Tokyo; Arles Photography Festival in France; The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; and The Photographers’ Gallery, The Institute of Contemporary Arts, and Tate Britain in London.
His photographs are included in prestigious public and private collections such as Tate Britain, The National Portrait Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Isabelle Chalard イザベル・シャラール
Isabelle Chalard is an independent curator based in London and Los Angeles. She has developed a unique and bespoke curatorial practice centred around photography and contemporary Chinese art. Working closely with a selected group of artists/photographers, she has been building bridges between Asia and the West, through exchange programs (setting up the Red Mansion Art Prize in conjunction with the most prestigious Art Colleges in the UK), selected site specific projects (a good example being “China Power Station” with the Serpentine Gallery exhibiting Ai Weiwei, Yang Fudong, Cao Fei et al), residencies and numerous international exhibitions (from the Today Art Museum in Beijing to the Arles photo Festival in France, the 10th Istanbul Biennale and the Laforet Museum in Tokyo).
144 Sujiya-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
Subway Karasuma Line "Shijo" station, 6 min on foot from Exit 5
Hankyu Line "Kyoto-Kawaramachi" station, 5 min on foot from Exit 11
PANEL DISCUSSION “Scenography on KYOTOGRAPHIE”
Kurochiku Tenshokan 2F
ARTIST TOUR: Dennis Morris “Colored Black” + Book Signing
ARTIST TALK “Colored Black” – A Talk with British Jamaican Artist : Dennis Morris & Visual Culture Researcher: Morihiro Satow