Kokoroko: “It’s not a sequel, it’s a different story”

With a new album on the near horizon, the eight-piece band shares insight into their journey and new sounds

Photography by Vicky Grout

Likely a familiar name to UK dwellers and even those living further afield, Kokoroko is an eight-piece London-based band that’s gone from strength to strength in recent years. Fitting the bill of the old saying “like music for my ears”, the band is indeed something that anyone will be happy to hear as it fuses Jazz and Afrobeat into a harmonious merging of rhythms, improv and honey-dripping melodies. Fronting the band is Sheila Maurice Grey – vocalist and trumpeter – who plays alongside her musical family: Yohan Kebede (synthesisers and keyboards), Cassie Kinoshi (alto sax and vocals), Onome Edgeworth (percussion), Tobi Adenaike-Johnson (guitar), Ayo Salawu (drums), Richie Seivwright (trombone and voals) and Duane Atherley (bass, synthesisers and keyboards). And honestly, it’s important to think of them that way – a group of kins who each share different interests and insights. Because when they come together, no matter their differences or likeness, the music is what binds them. Below, in anticipation of the launch of their new album Could We Me More, set to release in August, I chat to the band about their journey and what we can expect from their new sound.

I’d love to hear about how you all met.

We all met at different times and in different places. Clearly we all met for a reason, though! That reason is something we’re still exploring.

To those who haven’t heard your music before, how would you describe it?


What are you all like as individuals, do you all share the same music interests and taste? 

We all have different music interests and taste, I think that’s the special thing about the band – it’s taking the things that make us individuals and marrying them together as a celebration of who we all are and where we come from.

As an eight-piece, what’s it like being part of such a big group? What’s the dynamic like?

It’s amazing. When you find one person jarring, there’s another seven people to talk to, ha. Working and playing in a big group is amazing, but it also has its challenges. This includes learning how to allow space for others as well as figuring out where you fit into the equation of a song. It sharpens you as a musician, and forces you to simplify and revisit the essence of the craft, which is songwriting.

You’re currently on tour, which sounds incredible! Where did you play, are you teasing out your new album?

We just finished an incredible run in the Netherlands and Belgium, with highlights being two sold out shows at Paradiso in Amsterdam and Ancienne Belgique in Belgium! We appreciate the love we get shown all over Europe and we’re looking forward to the France leg of tour next week! We might play a new song here and there.

We’ve been teasing bits of the new album and reworking some classics that kind of tell the story of why and how a band like us exists. 

Speaking of, can you share some details about your new album? What can we expect to hear, and how does it compare to your previous releases?

Our album is a reflection of where we are at in our creative process; it’s an honest album in every sense of the word. Expect to hear mistakes that capture the essence of the song better than perfection could. 

The album is a moment of time captured, similar to our first EP. It’s hard to compare them – they’re from a very different time and a very different place. I think we would all encourage people to try to be present when listening to the album or any album, rather than listening comparatively. It’s not a sequel, it’s a different story.

Can you pick out a couple of favourite moments from the new album and talk me through them?

We Give Thanks was special; it’s a song that really captures the energy of the band. It was amazing to watch Sheila step out of her comfort zone, being adventurous with the way she sang while also paying homage to the 70s and 80s Afro rock/psychedelic bands that paved the way. Another moment is the outro to Somethings Going On; it was the last thing we all recorded together in the studio and the energy in it perfectly sums up the weeks we spent together writing and recording the album. I think a favourite track might be Good Times, I’m torn between that one and Home.

Is there a certain feeling or emotion you’re hoping to evoke from the new album?

There is no specific feeling or emotion we are trying to evoke, we just want people to connect with our stories. Different people will connect with different things and that’s something we’ve learned from each other. That’s the exciting thing about creating something – it kind of takes on its own life as soon as you let it go. We all have different favourites!

What’s next for the band?

Hopefully to start working on another album, a film maybe; some people want to delve deeper into fashion. We are quite ambitious as a collective ha, but basically whichever medium allows us to express ourselves in the best and most fulfilling way.

Radio Ballads

In a new show at Serpentine, four artists reveal a three-year collaboration with social workers, carers, organisers and communities to share impactful stories of labour and care

Rory Pilgrim, _RAFTS_, Barking and Dagenham Youth Dance, Production Still, 2021. Photo: Matthew Ritson.

“What keeps us connected? What do we need to repair? How do we listen and how do we hold each other?” This questions are posed by Amal Khalaf, curator and artist who’s currently director of programmes at Cubitt and civic curator at the Serpentine Galleries. Exploring stories about labour and care – plus the important act of how we care – Amal alongside the wider gallery team have embedded these questions into a new exhibition named Radio Ballads, currently on show at Serpentine and running until 29 May 2022. The show is also simultaneously running across the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham from 2-17 April, headed by the council’s New Town Culture programme. 

Over three years, artists Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim and Ilona Sagar were asked to collaborate with social workers, carers, communities and organisers. Radio Ballads is the culmination of this and features long-term projects spanning film, drawing, mixed-media, song and music. It’s an impactful exhibition that shares experiences with mental health, domestic abuse, terminal illness, grief and end of life care. It’s also created in response to 12 years of austerity and the demise of the UK care sector – from privatisation and immigration policies to racism and lack of access to services. All of which is conceived through the voices of social care workers and those giving or receiving care. 

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Sonia Boyce, Yes, I Hear You, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Even the title, Radio Ballads, is rich in personal meaning. It takes its name from the original Radio Ballads broadcast on the BBC from 1957-64; it also looks at the form of a ballad – the poems and narratives set to a song or assortment of sounds – and how the framework centres the voices of people. Artists and musicians spend time “listening to people who were rarely represented in the media and often violently erased form history – centring their voices and words on their own term was a revelation to me,” explains Amal.

Interested in using art to “build political power, create life-sustaining relationships, and enact community and systems change”, says Amal, Radio Ballads is provoking, resilient and brave through its documentation of how social care services and artists can work together. Helen Cammock – former social worker and long-term artist – is deeply aware of the responsibilities that social workers bare for others, and the impact this can have on their lives. In her work with Bass Notes and SiteLines, Helen explores the connection between text, voice and body in order to present resistance and strength. Through sessions with people receiving care and those offering it through an organisation called Pause, Helen’s contribution – spanning film, meditation exercises, group drawings and a live performance – sees a series of artistic workshops come to life, all in all reflecting on the connections made through music and lyric writing to express anger, pain, joy and care. Below, Helen tells me more about her prodigious work at Radio Ballads. 

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

Tell me about your work involved in the show, what stories are you hoping to share?

There are a number of different elements to the show. These elements somehow give a ‘way in’ to the project process, and discuss in different forms the ideas that we were talking about in the project. This included a discussion in its widest sense about care using different activities to find ways for the conversation. We looked at how the body can be a site for resilience and the voice a site for resistance. 

The show includes a film (which weaves together refections from social workers and women who access care that take sung and spoken form, and also texts from people who have written about both voice and care). There is a large fabric banner, a triptych of screen-prints, a series of small line drawings and three larger line drawings made by contributors in the workshop process, a research table full of books that somehow speak about the idea of care and its relationship to body and sound, and a booklet that includes text I’ve written, drawings, images and a project playlist. Most of the works are made by me but some (the line drawings) come from activities on the project. There will also be two performances of a song Listening In Your Silence that I’ve written made up of words, phrases and stories that have come out of the workshop discussions. This will be a group performance of the song that we have been rehearsing together for eight weeks. We will be joined by a small choir from Brighton and Hove who have also been rehearsing the song for the past month.  

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

You worked with social workers, carers and communities for three years. What was this like for you, and what did you learn from them? Can you tell me more about your findings and the conversations you had?

It was a period that involved the lockdown so it included ‘in person’ and online workshops/conversations. This meant changes in participants/collaborators and the way that we could be together. This felt a little de-stabilising and was hard work in a way – when we were trying to be together. We worked with different social work practitioners (from different areas of care services) and with one project where both practitioners and the women who received support came together. A range of different activities were used in order to develop the space for discussion and trust to be built. We used drawing, led meditation to music, creative writing, photography, discursive activities and singing – all as ways to have conversations about care and self care and the relationship between voice and body, and resistance and resilience. We tested some of this out through what we ‘did’ together. We discussed what music means to us, what it feels like to speak and be heard, we used our voices to sing and our bodies to form shapes and gestures to articulate different emotions and states to further these conversations. This forms a foundation of the material in the film.

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

Can you share any stories or anecdotes from working with them?

There is no one story – it was a process of exchange. Each person has many stories and experiences. A process of trust building was key. In order for us to discuss what it means to use your voice (metaphorically or physically) it was important to create structures for those conversations. We had moments of sadness and moments of laughter, moments of connection and situations where conversations were difficult. There was negotiation and deal-making sometimes when asking people to try something new – or something that felt unfamiliar. There were women who felt uncomfortable singing in a group and for others; singing in a choir represented something difficult from their past. This sharing was important and informed how we approached each activity. Some social workers spoke about the power of being vulnerable in certain ways alongside the women they work with in the sessions and how this brought particular benefit to their working relationship. 

What response do you hope you’ll receive from this work?

I often say that I want people to respond both emotionally and intellectually to the work, and that this is about being able to connect to others and their stories but also to one’s own. We all have moments where we feel our voices and our bodies enable us to survive, to resist, to care… the process of this project is ‘the work’, if you like. The exhibition is made up of glimpses of this process. It is a way to touch or be touched by the process, but the process was where the work took its form; the site of the work. 

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

In what ways can art improve social care and community? How is your work contributing to that?

I am an artist; I am interested in dialogue and in the transformative nature of art to transform the form, shape or sound of stories and ideas. I want to create something new – ideas, sensation and thought through the work. This has a social function, a political function and an artistic function. It isn’t social work. This isn’t my aim here. But any relationships we form with people – individually or collectively – can have a role that supports, invigorates, validates, challenges and this can be seen as a form of labour, in contributing to a way of seeing, changing or interrogating the social fabric. 

I believe all situations in life can benefit from art and social work, and work within and between communities is absolutely one of them. It is a way to express and communicate on different levels and through different forms. It is a way to create channels for communication – say difficult things – and process difficult experiences. Not outside of therapeutic approaches or other structures of care, but alongside or in dialogue with. 

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Rory Pilgrim, RAFTS, Green Shoes Arts, Production Still. Photo: Jessica Emovon.

Rory Pilgrim, Sketch Book. Courtesy of andriesse-eyck galerie.

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Helen Cammock, Bass Notes and SiteLines: The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Rory Pilgrim, RAFTS, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, Film Still, 2022.

Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, Film Still, 2022.

London 82

Traverse back to London in the early 80s, as seen through the eyes of photographer Sunil Gupta

The last time I indulged in the work of Sunil Gupta was during his major retrospective at The Photographers Gallery in London last year, during which he presented his politically charged – and narrative heavy – portraits and street shots on topics such as family, race, migration and sexuality. Sunil, who’s an Indian-born Canadian photographer based in London, has become widely acclaimed for his image-making, particularly his documentary work in New York and the lensing of injustices suffered by gay men globally. He tells stories through a merging of honest portraiture, candid street photography and the more intentionally staged, which in turn raises awareness of gay rights plus the struggles and complexities that the LGBTQIA+ community has experienced over time. It was in this very retrospective that I began to understand Sunil’s career-long goal and subject matter: he’s a visual storyteller, an activist and political voice of a generation.

And now, I’m given the opportunity to observe the photographer’s work once again, this time composed as a new book from Stanley/Barker and entitled London 82. The publication marks the moment in which Sunil began experimenting with colour, a time when he enrolled at the Royal College of Art in London and started playing around with the processing facilities. With an aim of capturing gay life around the UK’s capital during the early 80s, what first commenced as an inquest into an exclusively gay subject matter soon evolved into a wider exploration of life in the city – encompassing all sorts of characters from gay men, the elderly, migrants and people of colour. Here, Sunil tells me more about this momentous collection, the types of people he sought to photograph and what life was like as a gay man when he arrived in London.

Can you describe what London was like in 1982?

I had come to London as a young gay man at the end of the 1970s from New York with an interest in photography. It felt like a cold and unfriendly place for gays. Also, there was hardly any photography scene worth mentioning at the time. And of course it was so much shabbier than it is nowadays but then so was New York City. London felt depressed, cold, dark and lonely. It was also a place where I acquired a race problem by being South Asian. There were counter cultures like punk, the left, and of course the emerging gay disco scene but most of that was closed off to non-whites. It was the time when I felt very alienated.

What inspired you to pick up a camera in the first instance and start shooting this body of work?

I was in art school and I was learning to make work by project. In between the projects, however, I would do street photography as a way of exercising my camera skills and also of discovering a new city. I had the experience of shooting a specific street, Christopher Street, in New York as the centre of gay public life. However, I could not find anything similar over here, so in the end I settled on a route between where I lived in Fulham, my classes in South Kensington and my outings to the West End. Being in college allowed for some experimentation with colour negatives as equipment and processing were available for free.

What sort of person caught your eye while out shooting?

All kinds of people caught my attention when I was out shooting; gay men, of course, Black and Asian people, various OAPs who appeared randomly amongst the better off in West London. I wasn’t really trying to make any kind of sociological commentary, just some juxtapositions and formal arrangements that caught my eye. Of course all the backgrounds were very much part of the scene.

Can you share some anecdotes from working on this project?

I’m trying to remember if there had been any encounters with people whilst shooting these pictures. Mostly there weren’t, as people really did not want to be spoken to. In that sense, it was very different to my earlier experience of New York. I had to rein myself in and not appear too aggressive whilst I was photographing, as I had to learn to approach people directly and instigate encounters with my camera. People in London didn’t seem to like that very much. One of the things that really struck me was the extremes of wealth and poverty on display amongst the people on the streets. 

How does it feel looking back on this body of work, and how does it compare to the West End today – particularly in terms of queer culture?

What I didn’t realise was that, in a way, I had had a very sheltered life in those few years centred on my very privileged life as a photo student at the RCA in South Kensington. I hadn’t seen these pictures again until very recently when they got scanned. I’m amazed at the kind of naïveté they have from my point of view, since I’m giving everything equal weight; most of my projects were heavily weighted towards some critical stance or the other. London also seems curiously white and the Asians seem to be newly arrived. Contrary to now, when that is certainly not the case, as the West End has become much more diverse. And although London never developed a Christopher Street, it does have a small, touristy version around old Compton Street – a version that was palatable enough to be shown as advertising on airlines promo videos where the city is diverse and tolerant, despite having an appalling record number of arrests of gay for cruising in the 70s.

What can the audience learn from London 82?

I hope the audience can see that, in 1982, London was much less brash and more economically mixed in the centre. People had their own styles of dressing and that seemed to be fine. The streets seemed messy and lived in but that seemed fine as well. Gay men had become clones and were beginning to emerge from the fearfulness of the 1970s. I suppose the key takeaway is that it’s the moment that Thatcher swept into power with her mantra that society does not matter, only individuals do, and that it was every man for himself. That was going to define the 1980s.

What’s next for you, any upcoming plans or projects?

There are several projects online; a new commission is underway that is being organised by Studio Voltaire and the Imperial Health Trust. I’m researching the experiences of long-term users of the HIV OPD at St Mary’s as well as people who have recently had gender reassignment surgery at Charing Cross Hospital. An edited version of this new work will hopefully be on display at those hospitals by the end of February 2022. I am continuing to work with my archives, the next publication will be a text-based one. I am gathering all of my writing on photography over the last 40 years into one publication that will be launched by Aperture in the autumn of 2022. My retrospective exhibition that was at The Photographers Gallery earlier this year is opening at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto and will run from January to April 2022.

Field Day 2021

On the last weekend of August, London’s Victoria Park welcomed the return of Field Day in a quintessentially electronic homecoming

The day began as we bounced our way onto the overground, only to be met by a swarm of festival goers; the influx of glittery faces, patterned shirts, make-shift drinks and bumbags gave them away instantly. We walked from Whitechapel, many others did the same, and the weather was typically British – muggy and grey. But despite the somewhat bleak skies that casted over the city, there was a real sense of anticipation sweeping the air. Field Day, London’s annual outdoor music festival that originated in 2007, had returned. And with it came a sell-out event and line-up comprising a mix of electronic genres and six arenas, not to mention a thrillingly moody headline performance from production duo BICEP at the main stage – the first performance since 2018.

After a year of cancellations, the elation for the UK’s return to festivals was unmissable. As we edged closer to the gates, the bassy hum of the stage openers exaggerated this: IMOGEN, Jaguar, Flip the Lid, Sofia Kourtesis, Grainger and Yung Singh were all kicking off what would be a blissful homecoming to the original playground of Victoria Park. Other bookings included O’Flynn, Hot Chip Megamix, Artwork, Mall Grab, Rosie Low, Floating Points, TSHA and Poté to name a few, and it’s safe to say that those in attendance were more than enthusiastic. 

“It’s been different,” said the festival’s director, Luke Huxham, as I sat down with him to ask about the expected and enduring hurdles. “It’s been challenging trying to navigate through the rescheduling and reacting to the government messaging. But, I think festivals in general are challenging, so it’s just been another challenge we’ve had to deal with. However, things are back and they’re back for good. It’s exciting.”

With the previous event held in south London’s Brockwell Park, Luke explained that it was a thrilling return to the festival’s birthplace in east London. “This is where we’re going to stay for a while,” he said. Coupled with a quick reaction to the news of the pandemic, the team were able to roll over the line-up from 2019, which inadvertently worked in their favour. “In a way, the delay has been a good thing because BICEP’s profile is now much bigger than it was or would have been for last year’s event,” said Luke. “So we’ve got one of the hottest headlines at the peak of their career.”

Photo credit: Ro Murphy / Hotchip

Poté, a Paris-based artist who also goes by the name Sylvern Mathurin, took to The North Stage in the early evening for his DJ set. A little different to his live performances, the set was still brimming with energy. The return to festivals, he said, had been rejuvenating: “It gave me a lot of time to re-think what I want to stand for and how I want to portray myself in the future.” Having just finished working on an album, he explained how his experiences over the pandemic have been self-defining; he’s thought a lot about who he is. “For the first time, I’ve got into therapy and started diving into who I am. Especially with all that was going around – Black Lives Matter and Me Too – it made me question who I am and what I stand for. I never had that existential moment before.” 

This was Poté’s second UK festival of the year so far, with Lost Village being the first a couple of days prior. For him, like many of the artists performing that day, the come-back was exhilarating. “As soon as you go up on the stage and get that roar of energy, there’s nothing else to do but give it back, releasing it and dancing.”


TSHA is a London-based DJ producer who was one of the early performers at the Victoria Park East stage. Catching her after the set, there’s no denying that she set the mood for what was to come later on. “It’s difficult to play early but it’s always nice,” she said. “Not everyone gets here at this time or people aren’t drunk enough yet, or ready enough. But it’s been a good vibe – I think everyone’s been pretty on it with a lot of the festivals, which is wicked.”

Field Day was TSHA’s second festival of the weekend, so it’s been a busy return for the DJ. “It’s been really energising but at the same time exhausting,” TSHA added. She’s just dropped an EP and has been utilising the past year or so to write. But as things opened up again, her focus then shifted to performing. “You’re there meeting people and finally seeing friends you haven’t seen in a long time, finally being able to be together and dance together, catching other performers I haven’t seen in a long time; it’s a hole that’s been missing and it’s been filled now.”

Photo Credit: Karolina Wielocha / Mall Grab
Photo Credit: Ro Murphy / Bicep
Floating Points
Photo credit: Karolina Wielocha
DJ Seinfeld and George FitzGerald

Finding Common Ground

Kemka Ajoku’s new series captures migration and settlement of Black people in the UK after the Windrush era

The After Party

A photographer of fashion and portraiture, Kemka Ajoku – who’s born and raised in London – strives to rewrite the stories of Black British culture. Done so through a mix of personal projects and commissions, Kemka has documented all sorts of meaningful tales from the locals of Lagos, busy in the tasks of their everyday jobs, and the beauty of brotherhood in the post-adolescent stage of life. Each picture he takes reverberates with purpose and passion; he’s a storyteller of truth, and someone who employs visual art as a tool for spreading his messages.

Over the last year, which has been a difficult one for many, if not all, Kemka has managed to find a sense of fulfilment. Not only did he graduate at the end of 2020 form a degree in Mechanical Engineering, he also arrived back home and broke away from the educational system for the first time in his life. “I felt free to creatively understand more about who I am,” he tells me, “looking back at my lineage as a guide to learning more about myself, having never given myself the space or time to truly be introspective.”

Gestural Greetings

A period of self-awareness and contemplation, Kemka’s ventures out into the ‘real world’ arose alongside the arrival of the pandemic. Coupled with the increase in racist hate crimes and injustice the globe, he began to question his role as a photographer, “a Black British photographer for that matter.” A sense of responsibility emerged: “a need to document the life of my people both in Nigeria and the diaspora,” he says. “To me, this was more important than taking a pretty photo. And so, a paradigm shift took place within me, a shift which led to me working with more intentionality, giving more meaning to the work with the hopes of lasting the test of time.”

This matured sensibility has manifested into his latest photo series, titled Finding Common Ground. Months in the making, the body of work is currently exhibiting at Wrest Park as part of the England’s New Lenses project with Photoworks, in partnership with English Heritage’s Shout Out Loud programme. In comparison to his previous series – although motivated in their own right – Kemka has never worked with such drive and ethos. “I sat down and really articulated what I wanted to achieve before picking up my camera.” A lengthy bout of research and exploration later, he came to learn more about the migration and settlement of Black people in the UK after the Windrush era, “a story that me, my parents, and their parents are part of.”

Tami’s Portrait

The photos involved are therefore contemplative, powerful and historical. Shot in Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, the location protrudes with British heritage as it’s built atop the style of an 18th Century French Chateau. He cast a selection of his friends to sit for him, each representing a specific demographic within the Black British community. Referred to as “characters”, Kemka explains how each of his models’ personas have been developed from “watching British Blaxploitation films from the 70s and 80s; films such as Black Joy, Babylon Burning an Illusion and Pressure to name a few.” To accentuate this, Kemka worked with stylists Daniel Obaweya, Charles Ndoimu and Lingani Noah who assisted with adorning the models in Black British clothing lines from both young and more established labels. 

Western Union

“The styling for this project was broken into two parts, highlighting two generations of Black British citizens,” adds Kemka, “from the tailored style of the late 40s and early 50s, to the more relaxed and youthful looks of the 70s and 80s. Fashion is an important part of British culture, used in a way to express identity with the community one associates themselves with. Many fashion nuances migrated from foreign land have interwoven with British styling over recent years, and this integration of style was a focal point in styling the models.”

Observing the completed works and you’ll notice how the poses or gestures appear to have been caught in a freeze frame – recording not only that moment in time, but also an experience and learning exuded from the photographer who’s captured them. “The intention with this work is to artistically depict an important era in Black British history (not in a common documentary photography fashion) that will have longevity long after I’m around,” he concludes. “Thinking back to my intentions as a photographer, one thing I revert to is the legacy my work will have for other Black British creatives, looking for a reference upon which to build their creative career upon.”

One View of the Temple
Kozy’s Portrait
Couple in Wrest garden
The Consultation
Wrest River
The Essence of Chi
Lover’s Rock


Photographer: Kemka Ajoku

Assistant Photographer: Anu Akande

Talent: Kozy, Ore Ajala, Amidu Kebbie, Chieloka Uzokwe, Tami Bolu, Feranmi Eso

Hair: Shamara Roper

Styling Team: Daniel Obaweya, Charles Ndiomu, Lingani Noah

Special Thanks: Mahtab Hussain, Ingrid Pollard

And special thanks to Photoworks and English Heritage for giving me the opportunity to create this body of work through their ‘England’s New Lenses’ project

Can you see me now?

Brunel Johnson’s four-part series provides a necessary platform for Black and minority ethnic groups

Many of Brunel Johnson’s ideas tend to formulate in the shower – it’s where he devises some of his best work. In the past, there’s been Dream, a project documenting the Pembury Estate in Hackney, photographing and videoing young women playing estate football. There’s also the countless sports, commercial, lifestyle and documentary photography projects, that each depict his notably candid style of image-making and, more importantly, his view of the world. It’s my Hair is another fine example, an ongoing project that aims to show the time, effort and skill that goes into maintaining Afro hair. 

Whether it’s a still or moving image, Brunel’s shower-formed concoctions are deeply powerful just as much as they are empathetic. And Brunel’s most recent endeavour is a fine paragon of his goals as a self-taught, documentary photographer-turned-filmmaker. Titled Can you see me now?, the project is a four-part series produced and directed by Brunel himself, that aims to provide a space for Black and minority ethnic groups to tell their stories. For him, creativity is an apt tool for telling these narratives and to ultimately steer change. So by working with a solid team – including Milo Van Giap as the DOP, plus charities Rise.365 and Re:Sole and United Borders – Brunel has cast an array of real-life people with lived experiences to share, heightened by his artful use of mixed-media and 1:1 format. The result of which is a compilation of four films, Young Black Man, The Beauty Of The Hijab, Black Girl Magic and CHiNK. Below, I chat to Brunel to hear more about his impactful series.


First, tell me about your ethos as a photographer.

I strive to capture the mundane moments of daily life in an authentic and raw way. If I’m working on a project, I’ll always try to draw out the moments that tell the story I want the audience to see best. My goal as a photographer is to change the narrative that surrounds Black and minority ethic communities. I want to change how we’re shown in the media and how our stories are told. So I strive to bring out the stories that I believe the world needs to hear and see without tainting it from a biased gaze. 

When did the idea arise for Can you see me now? Why tell this story?

It actually came about while I was in the shower (a lot of my ideas happen there). Being a Black creative in this industry can be frustrating, as not only do you have to deal with basic day-to-day struggles of life, you also have to deal with the stereotypes, your work being deemed irrelevant, being labelled unprofessional for stating your mind and making a stand for what you believe in, being randomly stopped and searched because of a vague police description as you walk out your front door. 

All these things and many more make you realise that you’re in a constant upward struggle to achieve a basic human right – to just live. And this can really take a toll on you mentally. Simply screaming, complaining and protesting gets you easily labelled and tossed aside. So how do you tell your pain, struggles and experiences while making those who wouldn’t normally listen, listen? It has to be done creatively. In my opinion, anyway. I believe these stories are important and need to be told, especially with how the world is right now. The mic isn’t being given to those who are truly affected and that needs to change. How will people understand what is happening in these communities if it’s always the white gaze of the media telling us what they think we feel? 

What are your reasons for incorporating mixed-media, and what does this add to the narrative?

While planning this project, I wanted the message to be delivered in a way that hits the viewer from multiple angles. I’ve seen this format done many times before, but I wanted to do it differently. Sometimes the visuals are dope but the poem is a bit meh, other times it’s the visuals that are meh but the poem is dope; I wanted to create something that was both visually and audibly dope yet still digestible. 

As a documentary photographer, I know the face and eyes tell a story and are probably the most captivating part of the human body. I saw the face as a blank canvas that I could use to tell the story with words, and would visually have the viewer spending more time staring at the photo. I didn’t want the viewer to come up with their own interruptions. The monochrome palette and 1:1 format were important for me. I acknowledged that, for some reason, whenever we talk about race, despite its complexities, it always somehow boils down to Black and White, so why not have visuals like that too. The 1:1 format was to create a box, symbolising the stereotypical box many of us have had to live our lives in, but now we were taking control of this box and using it to our benefit, to tell our stories. I made the subjects stare directly into the lens to prevent the viewer from looking elsewhere. The subject is in front of them and there’s no escape; it’s time to listen, read and see what they have to say. 

How did you land on the subject matter, and what do these topics mean to you? 

I decided that I wanted each piece to be direct and unapologetic of how these communities really feel. For the young Black man part of the series, I drew upon my personal experiences and had a friend who is a poet write it out as a spoken word. With the other parts of the series, I spent time speaking to people from those communities to educate me on their experiences, their feelings and what they’d like to say if given the platform to. 

I really enjoyed this process because, for example, with Black Girl Magic I was going down the lines of Maya Angelou and the strong Black woman narrative. However, after speaking with Black women, many said that the era of the strong Black woman had passed and that they wanted the world to know that they experience other feelings too; that they cried, laughed, felt anxious, scared, fatigue and more. So making this a reality was incredible. It was the same situation with CHiNK and The Beauty of The Hijab. One thing I made sure of was that each poem was written by someone from their respective community. This is why I decided to call the series Can You See Me Now? I do what I do so I can learn more about humanity. Each topic for me is an opportunity to learn, to find common ground and build bridges. 

What’s the main message with this powerful series, what can the audience learn? 

Can you see me now? Am I visible now? Can you feel and understand my pain, struggles and experiences? It’s to be visible. I hope the audience can relate to the series and feel a sense of relief that maybe how they’ve felt is finally being put across, and those who haven’t experienced the things said in the series become more understanding and accepting to the fact that they do exist and are happening. 

Film credits:

Producer, Script Writer, Director: @bruneljohnson
DP: @milovangiap
Sound & photographer: @bruneljohnson
AC: @notsergioh
Lighting: @flapjacksss & @milovangiap
Makeup: @ioanasimon_mua @madalina_petreanu
Editor: @jfroudy
Sound Engineer: @flynnwallen
Retouch: @alberto__maro @isahakeemphotography
Runner: @soyd1416

Models: @lenaelghamry @sadiqa.e @_shazfit @alex_fergz @da_bf9 @mrbonsu @proscoviauk @doggsza @jaychelle.1 @youngshahid @belliebooze @_purnimaraicreates @w.cui Gladys & Sandro.

Poems by: Yumna Hussen, @ashleybelalchin @thejasminesims @belliebooze

Brunel Johnson is represented by Studio PI, an award-winning agency with a diverse roster of talent from the most under-represented sections of society






The city and all it holds

Hong Kong-based photographer Roni Ahn remedially lenses adolescence and uncertainty during a difficult year in the city

Cherry and Zac

It’s an undeniable fact that the youth of today have been hard hit by the pandemic. Mental health, education and job prospects have all waned, with repercussions heightened in isolation and from a lack of support throughout the year. Even returning back to schools and seemingly normal life has proven to be tricky for most – with 67% of UK youths who responded to a Young Minds survey believing that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. Clearly, there’s much to be done in the way of bettering the lives and minds of the younger generation, and the effects are being felt worldwide.

To alleviate some of the year’s trembles, Roni Ahn, a photographer based between London and Hong Kong, turned towards her medium as a remedial outlet. Originally from Korea, Roni moved to Hong Kong at the age of nine before flying the nest to university in the UK. And just moments before the first waves of the pandemic were felt, she’d flown back to Hong Kong to reapply for her UK visa, which “happened to be when the pandemic blew up in Europe, in March 2020,” she tells me of the experience. “So I decided to stay here until things settled down, but ended up staying a lot longer than planned.” Filled with doubt about what may happen in the future, let alone the present, Roni found this point in time to be difficult – and rightfully so, particularly as she didn’t know how long she could extend her visa for. 

Although, it wasn’t just the pandemic that ensued anxieties; Roni felt like she didn’t have much of a creative place in Hong Kong as she did in the UK. “There are a lot of brand shootings and less room for creative freedom,” she explains. And with the recent political events unfolding – such as the protests led by the city’s youth – this naturally added to the political uncertainty in the area.

Kitman and Kuku

Roni’s camera is therefore her antidote, employed to build on her own personal project that turned out to be unambiguously close to home. Titled The city and all it holds, the documentary-in-style series has now reached completion and compiles various images shot between the months spent back at home in Hong Kong. The imagery, as a result, is both powerful and soft, capturing the moments of idleness and the unknown as her subjects roam the familiar landscape around them. “Working on my personal project gave me a sense of purpose and excitement in doing something that was solely for myself,” she adds. “Whilst I was taking photos of other people, the project reads like a journal of my time here.”

Indeed, it’s important to think of this work as a time capsule. When the lockdowns arose in Hong Kong, and meetings of more than two people in public were banned, Roni started to cogitate about the people she holds close. “When you’re forced to limit social interaction, you begin to narrow down on those that are more important to you – who is your support system?” Addressing this contemplation through imagery, Roni wanted to translate these thoughts into a series and thus formulated her findings into The city and all it holds; the title alluding to a shrunken world, and a place where she can look at things a little differently.

Fat, Kwan and Ruby

Most of her subjects, then, are those she’d met on set or through friends, but oftentimes they are cast on Instagram. A usual meeting would take place momentarily, getting acquainted with the her friends, lovers and family on the day of shooting, “which actually ended up being some of my favourite shoots,” she notes, specifically pointing to the ones with an “environment that feels authentic to them.” This has been achieved through the artful curation of clothes or location, meshed into a pictorial representation of the person in front of the camera, as well as the places that they are particularly font of, “whether it’s where they grew up, where they spent the most time in or has a special meaning to them.”

Setting the precedent is one of Roni’s favoured images of a group of friends – Sam, Blake, Ruby, Shui, Fat and Kwan – jumping across the waterway in the outskirts of the city. There’s an irradiating light flushing through the evening as the sun begins to fall behind the trees; the subjects appear joyous, as part of the group awaits as the others jump across the water. It denotes rebellion, freedom and strength – that nothing can come in the way of the younger generation fulfilling their youthful duties together. “I was shooting them from above a bridge and I was on my last two frames of a film roll,” says Roni. “I wasn’t expecting them to jump across, but they just started running and jumping back and forth, and I managed to catch the moment. I think the photo encapsulates the true spirit of the boys.”

Sam, Blake, Ruby, Shui, Fat and Kwan

Now that this series is out in the world, Roni has realised a shift in her role as a photographer. The city and all it holds has been the gateway for this recognition, where Roni now considers herself as a narrator who’s retelling the stories of her subjects. “I feel more accountable to tell these stories as accurately and authentically as possible,” she says, cementing the work as somewhat journalistic. But most of all, she’s telling the stories of adolescence – a universal experience felt by all. And once you observe the goings on within her pictures, it will most likely bring back a memory, feeling or relationship from your own past, too. “With all my work, I want to make people think. My favourite thing about photography is that it can be interpreted differently by everyone who views the work. What I am personally trying to tell with the pictures (often clouded by my personal experiences and memories) becomes irrelevant.”

Photography by Roni Ahn.

Kayla and Fa
Kayla and Fa
Kitman and Kuku
Lok and Enoch
Lok and Grandfather

Antony Cairns: CTY_TYO3 TYO4

The British artist talks us through his first UK solo show in four years, held at London’s Webber Gallery

TYO4_014, 2021. Inkjet on 108 cream with coloured stripes computer punch cards Negative date 2019 99.6 x 168.3 cm

After months of UK closures, what better way to laud the reopening of art and culture than with a new exhibition of Antony Cairns, the British artist known for his long-term exploration into global metropolises. The first UK solo show in four years opening today at London’s Webber Gallery, the works at hand shed light on his signature stark and dystopian style of photography; the type that depicts a futuristic landscape of a city seen through the murky night. Is this what a post-pandemic world looks like?

Antony’s infatuation with his medium began early during his teenage years in the 90s. He’d started to experiment exclusively with analogue photography, to which he’d draw on the technique of black and white practices as his trademark. Spending time in the darkroom, he recalls: “I loved the red light darkroom experience and I have been obsessed with the idea of photography ever since.”

In these earlier days of his practice, he’d also become engrossed in the subject of the city; a muse that would later ensue across all of his endeavours in photography, installation and sculpture. “The idea of photographing a city became an obsession for me,” he adds. “I became interested in how photography can be used to show the character of a place, and for me it was London. So I started off by taking pictures that defined what London meant to me.” In doing so, the artist began constructing imagery that presented a city in constant change – the fluctuation of the landscape, the deterioration of buildings, and even the sudden rise of new ones. 

TYO4_028, 2021. Inkjet on 30 green and green computer punch cards with blue stripes Negative date 2019 49.8 x 93.5cm

Antony addresses this notion of evolution throughout his artworks, which has seen him expand further afield from the UK into cities such as Los Angeles, Tokyo and Osaka. He’s also been awarded the notable Hariban Award, with works shown internationally in exhibitions such as LDN at the Recontres d’Arles, as part of Arles festival in 2013, plus shows at the George Eastman Museum and the Tate Modern.

A key trait of Antony’s is that he tends to shoot mostly in the night. Not only are the cities quieter during this time, but he also feels like he gains more access to space and time to take his pictures. “You could also say that my work sometimes has a science fiction feel to the photographs,” he notes, citing a welcomed by-product of shooting with all but a street light and flash of a camera. The sci-fi genre typically presents a city “shrouded in darkness”, and Antony’s cities manage to mimic this viewpoint succinctly. It wouldn’t be surprising if themes of space exploration, time travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life were to pop up in one of his images. 

TYO4_031, 2021. Inkjet on 30 blue computer punch cards Negative date 2019 49.8 x 93.5cm

Antony’s current exhibition, allusively titled CTY_TYO3 TYO4, sees the expansion of his works under the title CTY (which is an abbreviation of ‘city’). Prior to this show, he published a selection of artist books named LDN (2010), LPT (2012), OCS (2016), as well as work created using translucent silver gelatine films applied to sheets of aluminium in LDN2 (2013), LDN3 (2014), plus experimental pieces crafted from electronic ink in LDN EI (2015). The city is his mediation, and a subject that will continuously take centre stage in all that he puts his mind towards. “My work is all about building an archive of imagery that defines what a city is, not just an individual city like Paris, London or Tokyo, but the idea of what a city means in a more philosophical sense. My images are pieces in a constantly changing jigsaw puzzle of the city.”

Although not exclusively, the works presented at Webber Gallery are mainly of Tokyo and Osaka – two bustling metropolis located in the country of Japan. While shooting there, Antony was on a three-month residency in South Korea as part of the HyundaiCard Air artist residency program. Stationed on Gapado, a small island located between Jeju Island and the southernmost isle of Marado, it was here that he decided to travel through Asia and commence the collation of his imagery. 

TYO4_004, IBM cobol form

As for the process itself, he weaponises a host of “unorthodox” practices – a steer away from the traditional forms of photography and one that places emphasis on the use of a 35mm black and white film camera. From there, he develops the negatives but in reverse, “so it becomes a black and white positive, not a negative,” he explains. Then he’ll scan and utilises any supporting materials that he believes will suit the image’s aesthetic. And sometimes, he’ll use computer punch cards – a piece of stiff paper where holes can be punched into – or he’ll upload the jpeg onto Electronic Ink Silicon screens; two approaches he’s used in the exhibition. Other times, he’ll use a vintage paper stock such as Cobol IMB computer forms. “I use these varying techniques because the process and the reproduction of a photograph is what I want my works to explore.”

TYO3_47, 2019. Inkjet on Original IBM Decision Table Worksheet, 28cm x 21.5cm printed 2020

In some ways, Antony’s techniques have garnered the cityscape to be unrecognisable. The streets we may have come to know in our regular lives have been splintered with a dose of the supernatural – devoid of humans and garnished with an overcast shadow. But really, Antony wants you to look at these pictures as if you were the real thing, as seen through his own artistic interpretation. “It doesn’t matter which city, where or when, I want the viewer to feel that they are looking at a representation of the city.”

Antony’s show CTY_TYO3 TYO4 is on view at London’s Webber Gallery from 22 April – 6 June 2021. The exhibition is accompanied by his latest book, Selected Computer Punch card artworks: Computer listing paper edition, published by Morel Books.

E.I. TYO4_011, 2019. E-ink screen encapsulated in Perspex box. Negative Date 2019 10.1cm x 12.9cm; 20 x 20 x 3.2cm with frame
E.I. TYO4_012, 2019. E-ink screen encapsulated in Perspex box. Negative Date 2019, 10.1cm x 12.9cm; 20 x 20 x 3.2cm with frame
E.I. TYO4_086, 2019. E-ink screen encapsulated in Perspex box. Negative Date 2019, 10.1cm x 12.9cm; 20 x 20 x 3.2cm with frame

Anything But Standard

CEO Amar Lalvani reflects on The Standard’s new opening in London Kings Cross 


Where else could you take an outdoor bath overlooking St Pancras station? Located in the former Camden Town Hall Annex, The Standard has opened its first hotel outside of the States, taking over the brooding Brutalist structure originally built in 1974. The flamboyant red lift running up the exterior is the only hint of what guests can expect from the interior design and architecture, from long-time collaborator Shawn Hausman and Archer Humphryes respectively. Honouring the buildings history, its 266 rooms are decked out in retro colours, plush leather, shag-pile rugs and all things kitsch. Restoring the Annex’s library, an in-house librarian has curated a selection of books for guests to peruse in unusual pairings, such as Politics & Tragedy, Order & Chaos and Romance & Technology. The Standard, London’s offering of custom Craig Green robes and Bang & Olufsen speakers means it falls into the latter camp.  

“We could not be prouder of what team and our many collaborators have created,” reflects Amar Lalvani, CEO of Standard International, “in a beautiful, overlooked building that was almost left for naught.” Following the opening, we caught up with the ever-busy Lalvani to discuss hospitality, music and creating spontaneous spaces.

Why did the group choose London as the first property outside of the US?

Over the years we have had so many guests and fans of The Standard from London who have been waiting for us to open. It’s just an incredibly vibrant city that has transformed a great deal over the past 20 years since we opened our first Standard in Hollywood. The cultural landscape, and the arts and culinary scenes in particular are really exciting. I also find it vastly more international than New York and the perfect place to show the world what it is we do. 

What does luxury in the hospitality sector mean in 2019? How has it changed from when you first started out? 

The Standard was a pioneer in what is now called lifestyle hotels – a vastly overused and not really meaningful term. Back then the idea of a hotel being more than rooms, a lobby and a coffee shop was novel. That it could have a great restaurant, a fun nightclub, novel design, an art and music program. All of that was new. Today it’s what virtually every hotel strives to do. In a way that makes our job harder. To stand out from the noise. But people who know The Standard know we are different. We live and breathe those elements. We do it with thoughtfulness and integrity not as a branding or marketing exercise. And with a team of personalities and collaborators, many that wouldn’t work for or partner with any other hotel company. That’s what makes the magic. 

How would you describe The Standard London in a sentence? 

A building most people thought was an eyesore that we infused with our creative spirit to create an unexpected anchor for a changing neighbourhood, that pays respect to history and context while being a fresh and welcoming, and anything but standard. 

Who have you assembled for the restaurant? 

Two of the most talented young chefs in the UK. Adam Rawson is overseeing Isla and Double Standard as well as room service and events. And Peter Sanchez-Iglesias will be overseeing Decimo on the rooftop. We could not have asked for better partners with whom we created three very different culinary experiences depending on what mood you’re in. But of course, they are all welcoming and fun. 

How have you honoured the building’s original past?

When we first saw this building it just screamed The Standard. We have always been fans of brutalist architecture. In fact The Standard, Highline was designed with brutalism as the inspiration. And lo and behold we found the real thing in London. So from the preservation of the windows (not easy to make custom, operable, sound proof in that shape!), to the uncovering of the internal ceilings to expose the architecture in the rooms, to the protecting of the Banksy on the backside we respected the building in every way we could. In terms of its past life as the Camden Town Hall Annex, the best example is our Library Lounge which was actually the building’s library when we found it. Although I must say the room looks a bit better now and the selection of books is a bit different. But it’s not just cheeky decor. We actually have our own in-house librarian who takes great care in the selection. 

What has Shawn Hausman brought to the table with the interior design? What has been your favourite of his flourishes?

Shawn is an absolute genius. He fell in love with this building and already loved this period and it shows. His attention to detail and his eye for proportion, colour and materiality is unbelievable. Every where you look in the hotel there are moments you both want to photograph and never leave which is an incredibly hard balance to strike. I think the integration of the Sounds Studio into the Library with the fire place is so special. I could not think of anywhere on earth I would rather sit. I think as a bar, Double Standard is just stunning. And the way we worked to design two different room types in the the original building and the extension each respectful of the respective architecture is fantastic. And rooms with no windows that guests actually love. How could I forget…bathtubs on the outdoor terraces facing St. Pancras. I could go on and on. 

Music appears to be a big part of your life – does this manifest itself in anyway at The Standard London? 

Absolutely. In a big way. The Sounds Studio in the Library Lounge hosts a really thoughtful selection of international and local DJs as well as live music performances. We want that to be a welcoming place to come, relax, read, learn, listen, socialise and of course have fun. The living room we all wish we had. Dev Hines played our first one in July for the soft opening which was just a lovely moment. Mark Ronson is curating the performances for the grand opening. The soundtracks in each space are thoughtfully tailored to those spaces and all the rooms have B&O speakers. Music is a huge part of what we do, and love. 

In our Instagram age – what role does social media or technology play in the hospitality sector?

The hotel wasn’t designed with Instagram in mind but the shapes and colours we have in our design seem to have captivated peoples feeds since opening. It’s a big thing now for sure. It’s how people discover new places now. And it’s how people share things they love, and that’s a good thing. 

How does your Lobby App foster interaction between guests? 

In our Lobby App guests can anonymously communicate with each other until they are ready to meet in real life. The whole goal of the app is actually to use technology to get guests to put their phones down and interact with each other. To promote spontaneity, unexpected and serendipitous meetings between people. The way a great hotel lobby should which sadly has been waning over the years with people immersed in their devices. The Lobby app is not on offer in London yet as it’s still piloting in New York. 

What’s next?

Taking a break from the urban jungle and opening our first resort. The Standard, Maldives opens in October. I could not think of any place further from Euston Road in almost every way. But somehow it will also feel very Standard. Or anything but, I should say. 


Photo London 2018

Photo London is back at Somerset House for its fourth year and the many galleries exhibiting are more international than ever. Port joined the bustle of photographers and art enthusiasts to pick out some highlights from the fair.

© courtesy of Christophe Guye Galerie

Erik Madigan Heck – Junya Watanabe (Honeycomb) at Christophe Guye

Erik Madigan Heck is bringing fashion photography to the contemporary art world by blurring the boundaries between the two. His compositions have a sharp, polished edge to which he adds a feeling of fantasy through his vivid palette. It shows the clothes to their best advantage, but his treatment of the models is more intriguing, sublimating their human aspects into still, semi-robotic shadows of a high fashion concept. The look is pure and cohesive.

© Evgenia Arbugaeva. Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery

Evgenia Arbugaeva – Untitled #51, 2016 at The Photographers Gallery London

Taking the surreal in a totally different direction, Siberian photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva’s Amani series is an unsettling narrative feast focused on the semi-abandoned Amani Malaria Research Station in east Africa. Set up by German colonists in the late 19th century, the centre was originally intended for botanical research but was eventually taken over by the British and converted into a lab that explored new solutions to the spread of malaria. The images, filled with dusty old insect specimens, shelves of discarded bottles and aging piles of paper, reanimate a deserted site beset with allusions to its past.

© Alexander Gronsky / Courtesy Polka Galerie

Alexander Gronsky – Norilsk #5, Russia, 2013 at Polka Galerie

Alexander Gronsky has spent a lifetime studying the Russian landscape, however bleak it can be, with his interest lying in the power of our environment to shape emotions and behaviour. Norilsk is a northern industrial city that lies inside the Arctic Circle. In his muted and monotonous study of its outskirts, Gronsky highlights the ways we articulate our landscapes with man-made infrastructure, leaving an imprint that becomes inseparable from its surroundings.

Susan Derges, c/o Purdy Hicks Gallery

Susan Derges – Kingswood Bluebell No. 14 at Purdy Hicks Gallery

London-based photographer Susan Derges studies natural phenomena with an eye for its intricacy or more minute moments. Inspired by the way light reaches through a forest and illuminates its flora, she exposed the plants she gathered onto photographic paper in a makeshift darkroom hut in the woods. The result is a stark contrast between the luminous semi-translucent plant forms and a vacant black background. Once divorced from its original context, the plant is magnified for a more imposing sculptural presence. 

© Christian Tagliavini / Courtesy of CAMERA WORK

Christian Tagliavini – Plator at Camera Work

Best known for his elegant portraits, styled with all the austerity of the Northern Renaissance, Tagliavini has embraced the absurd with a sinister collection of masked figures with protruding beaks. Fully anthropomorphised, the models nonetheless appear stiff and lifeless like ancient taxidermies dressed up for a perverse joke.