People

Normski: Staying power

Normski is a man of many talents – a new exhibition shows his skills as a photographer, an interest that began as a youngster growing up in north London

It was serendipity that first acquainted Norman Anderson with the world of photography, the sort that seems to have touched much of his life.

'African Homeboy - Brixton, London, 1987' © Normski/ Victoria and Albert Museum,

‘African Homeboy – Brixton, London, 1987’ © Normski/ Victoria and Albert Museum,

It happened long before he shot to fame in the 1990s as Normski, the frenetic front man of the Beeb’s  music show Dance Energy, back to when he was a nine-year-old kid looking forward to getting a bike from his Mum.

“She took me along to an auction to buy one but we got there too late and all the bikes were gone,” he recalls.

“All they had left was an Instamatic  camera, so I reluctantly agreed to have it. I started using it just because it was there, but soon I was hooked.”

Anderson grew up in Primrose Hill in the days when it was a pleasant but unassuming  appendage of Camden Town or Chalk Farm, depending on which end you were at, and the camera became his sidekick. “I loved roaming the streets with it. The park, the canal, the market and this wonderful mix of people – Camden was like living in the centre of the world.”

Most of all there was a burgeoning music scene and, having gone on to study photography locally at the old Kingsway Princeton College, he began to document the rise of hip hop music and culture before becoming part of it.

But Anderson started out working for a press agency and his first published photograph – a shot of a crashed car jammed into the basement of a house in Chalcot Square – appeared in the Camden New Journal in 1983 when he was 18.

'Cynthia M Prescod (Mum) at Home in Primrose Hill, London, 1986' © Normski/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London

‘Cynthia M Prescod (Mum) at Home in Primrose Hill, London, 1986’ © Normski/ Victoria and Albert Museum

David Prescod (Stepfather) at home on his break, Primrose Hill', 1986  © Normski/ Victoria and Albert Museum

David Prescod (Stepfather) at home on his break, Primrose Hill’, 1986 © Normski/ V&A Museum

Now a roving broadcaster and DJ whose trademark 150mph delivery has not slowed down with age, he also has a number of photographic exhibitions under his belt.

The latest is Staying Power, a display of black British photography between 1950s and 1990s held jointly by the Black Cultural Archives and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

His in-your-face  ‘African Homeboy’ and  playful ‘Islam B-Boys’  offer a fascinating glimpse into the urban street culture of the 1980s and its political undercurrents, while two images stand out as loving tributes to his parents taken at the family home in Auden Place.

“My mother insisted on being photographed holding her Jamaican passport and she is proudly standing there as a black British person who came from a different place,” Anderson explains.

The photograph of his stepfather  – “the most important man in my life” – shows him in uniform holding a bag of potatoes he’d just bought from Woolworth’s.

“Mum and Dad worked on the busses, sometimes on the same bus as conductor and driver, and I have always been drawn to uniforms. So when I saw this policeman standing outside the old Co-Op department store in Camden High Street I just had to take a picture of him.  Nothing political. it was just the uniform,” he laughs.

Staying Power: Narratives of Black British Experience is showing at the Black Cultural Archives until June 20, and the Victoria and Albert Museum until May 24 

This article appeared in the Camden New Journal, May 7 2015

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