In the 1980s, Hackney was one of the most deprived parts of the UK, its citizens ignored by Margaret Thatcher’s new vision of Britain. But at Dalston’s Rio – London’s oldest community-run cinema – the Tape/Slide Newsreel Group was giving unemployed local youth a voice.
Set up in 1982, it taught photography and sound-recording skills, and championed an alternative, left-wing perspective on Hackney life. The ‘newsreels’ they made were then shown before the main features, connecting local life to the big screen. In 2016, thousands of slides were found in a filing cabinet in the Rio’s basement, a legacy of this groundbreaking project.
They document the vibrant communities, street scenes, markets, festivals and social events in Hackney in the 1980s. They also report on the social problems of a corner of London left behind, and on local activism against racism, police brutality, deportations, AIDS, the miners’ strike and nuclear weapons.
As one of the original Tape/Slide members, Will Kemp, wrote in 1983:
The production of a slide newsreel had two main purposes: to provide interesting and entertaining coverage of the local news that would be ignored elsewhere – or to cover news from an independent viewpoint, and to give a voice to the young people of the area. The newsreel would add a genuinely local flavour to the Rio’s nightly programme and give the audience greater involvement in it . . . We have screened varied and entertaining material and given a mouthpiece to some of the local young unemployed. It’s all part of our aim to make the media more accessible to the public. After all, anyone can take a few snaps. What makes the Rio different is that those pictures can appear alongside a multi-million-pound blockbuster.
The forthcoming book from Isola Press will present the best images from the archive alongside testimonies from the Tape/Slide Group members and people in the photos, placing them in a social and cultural context that is often missing in photobooks about East London.