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Black in the Union Jack

Pride: Irish guard Nicholas Tunge

IN BETWEEN shooting celebrities, politicians and actors, professional portrait and documentary photographer John Ferguson has made it one of his ambitions to take pictures of and catalogue Britain’s successful black population.

He’s done just that in his exhibition Black Britannia.

“The idea behind the project was to try and inspire younger people, especially younger black people in the times we are going through,” Ferguson says. “I’m trying to show childrenthere is more out there than violence; life isn’t as bad as some people make it out to be, but they have to push themselves to be the best they can.

“It’s not so much about heritage but more about aspirations. A lot of disenfranchised black kids think they can’t move out of their environments because of peer pressure. I show the people who have gone before them and have done really well out of their professions. This year, I have added about 15 more people to the exhibition. I wanted to make it an ongoing archival historical project as well.”

Happy snapper: John ferguson

The exhibition was as much a learning curve for the photographer as any one else.

“When I started the exhibition, I don’t think many people knew that the second most powerful woman in the country, after the Queen, was black [Baroness Scotland]. I didn’t know that until I was photographing her. She had a tough upbringing but proved to the establishment that black people can get on and be successful.”

Showcasing a wonderful array of pictures of black Britain’s finest, Ferguson considers his personal favourite.
“My favourite portrait in the exhibition is Frank Bruno; the one where he is hanging his boxing shorts on the clothes line. I love photographing people, it’s my passion. I’m always curious and as a good photographer, you need to have a certain amount of curiosity.

“Anything new to me, that I haven’t experienced before, I love to see and record if I can. I would like to photograph President Obama, and to keep on doing anything interesting and new. That’s what you strive for.”
He admits that not all of his jobs have been good fun.

Sporting star: Frank Bruno

“When I photographed AIDS victims in Africa it was hard. The helplessness and hopelessness of the situation, especially with the children and the mothers; you’re completely and utterly helpless.

“You’re trying to bring back a record of their plight and circumstance, but you can’t really do anything.

“When you’re photographing kids that have nothing or have HIV or are in war-torn places, that is the toughest assignment to have.”

Making this presentation a nationwide affair was always on the cards for the documenter, who is proud to see his artwork displayed in places other than London.

“After I finished the project I wanted to go to cities around the UK and it’s good to see it in Sheffield this year.”

Black beauty: Naomi Campbell

Skills: ballet dancer: Shevelle Dynott

Black Britannia is at the Showroom Workstation, 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield S1 until November 14. Call 0114 275 7727 or visit

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