Dennis Morris

Brother Can You Spare Some Change? Sandringham Road, Dalston, Hackney

1976, printed 2012

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Dennis Morris born 1960
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 275 × 405 mm
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016


Brother Can You Spare Some Change? Sandringham Road, Dalston, Hackney 1976 is a black and white photograph taken in London by Jamaican-born British photographer Dennis Morris when he was still a teenager. Together with ‘Mother's Pride’, Hackney 1976 (Tate P14373), it is one of many photographs that Morris took of his neighbourhood in Dalston, in north-east London, in the mid-1970s. It shows a young boy walking through a desolate urban scene, one hand outstretched towards the photographer, presumably speaking the words of the title. A number of Morris’s photographs show the environment of 1970s London in a state of destruction, the social consequences of which he commented on in his book, Growing up Black (2012): ‘Many houses were being pulled down and, with them, the community. The houses were replaced by flats; it was a new era.’ (Dennis Morris, ‘Neighbourhood’, in Morris 2012, p.74). This was a tumultuous time for the newly forming black diaspora communities in London; the cultural theorist Stuart Hall has written that it ‘witnessed the birth, at the very heart of “the old country”, of “colony society”, with its typical inner-city, bombed-out and abandoned wasteland locations and scenarios, its physical and social deprivations in housing and living conditions, its indignities, casual violence and degrading humiliation’. (Stuart Hall, ‘“Speak Easy”: Black in the ’70s’, in Morris 2012, p.5.)

The art historian Kobena Mercer has described Morris’s neighbourhood pictures as offering new insight into the narrative of the transition between first and second generation immigrants into Britain (Kobena Mercer, ‘Funky London Childhood’, in ibid., pp.14–15). They document the circumstances of poverty, but also the rise of a sense of belonging, despite the harsh reality of discrimination whereby one was not an equal citizen but a guest. Yet, the writer Gary Younge has argued, in his photographs Morris empowered the communities he documented and ‘transforms black Britons from objects to subjects, and from recipients of hospitality to cultural agents’ (Gary Younge, ‘The Way We See’, in ibid., p.11).

Morris learned photography at an early age in north London, his family having settled there when he was a young child. He attended the photographic club for the St Marks Church choirboys set up by Donald Paterson, a wealthy and philanthropic man who had developed some important new photographic technology. As a result many of Morris’s subjects in the 1960s and early 1970s were other children from his neighbourhood, as well as his local community. Unsurprisingly in these photographs there is not a sense of an outsider looking in, but a matter-of-fact and yet compassionate gaze.

This print was made by the artist in 2012 and is signed, verso, in ink. It was formerly in the Eric and Louise Franck Collection, London.

Further reading
Dennis Morris, Dennis Morris, Growing Up Black, London 2012.

Elena Crippa
April 2016

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