Dennis Morris

‘Mother’s Pride’, Hackney

1976, printed 2012

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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Dennis Morris born 1960
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 275 x 405 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016
Reference
P14373

Summary

‘Mother’s Pride’, Hackney 1976 is a black and white photograph taken in London by Jamaican-born British photographer Dennis Morris when he was still a teenager. It focuses on the intimacy of family life, portraying a mother posing proudly with her two children in their home. Together with Brother Can You Spare Some Change? Sandringham Road, Dalston, Hackney 1976 (Tate P14372), it is one of many photographs that Morris took of his neighbourhood in Dalston, in north-east London, in the mid-1970s. The image conveys a sense of domestic pride, the title taken from a well-known brand of sliced bread, as well as a desire to build a life defined by family and community life not poverty and racial discrimination. In his book, Growing up Black (2012), Morris has written of the sense of pride in keeping dwellings clean and tidy, despite the often cramped rooms and shared utilities among all tenants of a property, at a time when landlords were reluctant to rent to black people and there were signs outside houses that stated: ‘rooms to let, no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ (Dennis Morris, ‘Dignity in Poverty’, in Morris 2012., p.52).

In contrast, a number of Morris’s photographs, such as Brother Can You Spare Some Change?, show the exterior urban environment of 1970s London in a state of destruction, the social consequences of which he also commented on: ‘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 ibid., 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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