Crucially, Albert’s images also give us a positive vision of a jubilant and vivacious black British community. “Refreshingly, there are no signs of displacement or marginality, nor a sense of alienation in Albert’s portraits—his pageant images offer a different, and perhaps lighter, form of cultural resistance,” Mussai says. Yet all was not as blissful as it appears. In multicultural communities of West London in the ’70s, racism was prevalent, frequent, and ugly. “Albert’s photographs of the late 1960s and early ’70s were taken at a time of ‘No dogs. No blacks. No Irish,’ in a country irrevocably tainted by Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ anti-immigration speech, delivered only three years after the introduction of the 1965 Race Relations Act, the first legislation passed in the U.K. to outlaw racial discrimination on the grounds of color, race, or ethnic or national origins,” Mussai notes. With the recent spike in racially motivated hate crime in post-Brexit Britain, Albert’s images reinforce the history of immigration and its resounding significance.
The portraits are a compelling record of the positivism of a liberal new generation of Britain in the 1970s. And although Albert’s work—until now—has been rooted in its local impact, “Miss Black and Beautiful” traces the photographer’s place in the global campaign for black beauty, fashion, and creativity, and initiatives that continue today. “I tend to think of the ‘Black Is Beautiful’ movement as a byproduct of the American civil rights and black power movements of the1960 and ’70s, that naturally spread from the U.S. across the so-called ‘black Atlantic’ into a global consciousness,” Mussai says. “For us it is absolutely crucial to see these pageants as ‘of their time’—it was about ‘owning’ the idea of beauty, about occupying a space that has historically negated black women an existence within its terrains.”