The Tape/Slide Project: Rio Cinema archive presents unique look at Hackney in the 1980s
PUBLISHED: 10:32 13 March 2019 | UPDATED: 10:32 13 March 2019
Three years ago, staff at The Rio were sifting through various trinkets, paperwork and memorabilia from the cinema's past when they found something extraordinary.
Down in the basement, amongst vintage flyers and film posters, the team discovered thousands of pictures documenting Hackney in the 1980s, stowed away in filing cabinets in the form of glass slides.
After making some enquiries, staff realised the images were part of The Tape/Slide Project; a street photography group created to capture the highs and lows of 80s life in the community.
“Hackney is portrayed as being such a desolate, depressing place in the 80s,” explains The Rio’s Andrew Woodyatt, “but this photo archive shows that it wasn’t at all.
“It was full of life and joy and fun. Yes there were a lot of serious protests and issues at the time, but people are enjoying themselves and a lot of that has gone now: the amusement arcades, the bingo, a lot of the ways people socialised have now changed forever.”
The roots of the archive can be traced back to the late 70s. After Classic Cinemas chose to close the site on Kingsland High Street, local people rallied to save it as a community space. Local businessman Paul Theodorou took over the lease and re-named it Rio, and in April 1979 the cinema as we know it today was opened with the support of community groups based at the nearby Centreprise Bookshop.
Andrew adds: “Centreprise ran a photography workshop over the road, and here at the cinema they could see there was space to have a huge dark room and a lab, and to expand the photography in to a training scheme for young kids.
“They had a whole load of really good cameras, which they would load up with film and send kids out in to the neighbourhood to record everyday Hackney life.”
Centreprise would then regularly display a couple of the best pictures at The Rio – so cinema-goers could enjoy a few snapshots of local life before the main event of the movie itself.
After discovering this archive lying dormant in the basement, The Rio tasked Stoke Newington photographer Alan Denney to clean, restore and digitise the slides. Andrew reckons 4,600 pictures have been developed so far. There could be up to 10,000 in total.
An Instagram account for the archive went live at the end of February, and Andrew has already seen lots of engagement from the community.
“We’ve had quite a lot of people on the Instagram already saying ‘oh they were my neighbours’ or ‘that was me as a kid’ – it would be lovely to hear more people’s stories. A couple of people who were involved in taking the photos have come forward and said: yeah, I did that for a couple of years! We would love to be able to credit the people that worked on the project.
“When we contacted some of the people who ran the photography group and Centerprise and told them we’ve got this archive, they were blown away by the fact that it still exists and had never been thrown into a skip.”
Of the photos added on social media so far, the archive offers a crisp look at people in arcades, at the bingo, enjoying Stoke Newington Festival ’84 and browsing stalls at Ridley Road Market, amongst plenty of other scenes and sights around Hackney.
“Every time Alan restores another batch and sends over 20 or 30 more (pictures), it’s really hard to pin down a favourite,” continues Andrew.
“It’s really nice to see buildings and places, but people are fascinated to see what people looked like; hairstyles, clothing, fashion, it’s amazing how formal people would dress to go shopping. We’ve also got quite a lot of Hackney Wick pre-Olympics, which again isn’t well recorded.”
The cinema hopes to get some funding to make the archive permanent and fully accessible. Although especially relevant for residents of Hackney in the 80s, Andrew says there are plenty of reasons for younger people to take a look, too.
“What we’ve found in talking to local schools is that they’re fascinated by it as well. They can integrate it in to lessons about social and local history, architecture, planning and development.
“If you show a black-and-white image to young schoolkids, it doesn’t register. If you show them a coloured image, they get really excited because it’s something they understand. It’s amazing to have historical images like this, all in colour.
“If you look at all the topics that are in there (the project) like deportation, immigration, the NHS, education; it’s all still so relevant. It’s kind of like: these problems were going on 30/40 years ago, we still don’t seem to have found a solution to them. It makes the archive incredibly relevant to present day Hackney.”
To see the latest pictures from Rio’s Cinema Archive, follow them on Instagram. More details on the cinema here.