By Paul Wright
The iconic Rio Cinema in Dalston is the oldest community run cinema in London. It’s been an important cultural space within the areas diverse community for many years.
Back in the eighties the basement of the Rio was also home to a darkroom and lab for a community funded street photography group called The Tape/Slide project.
Set up by the Centerprise Bookshop (opposite the Rio) it gave the opportunity for young people to use professional photography equipment and document the highs and lows of life in and around Hackney.
The team was active throughout most of the eighties and documented the many protests and campaigns that arose throughout the politically turbulent decade. As well as protests the team documented the culture of the times, the day to day life of people going about their business.
Looking at the images it really hits home how quickly society has changed. Images of children playing out in the streets or in amusement arcades, the hustle and bustle of traditional markets and shops that once ruled the high street. It seems a far cry now from the fast paced hyper connected lives that many of us lead today.
I got in contact with Andrew Woodyatt from the cinema who told me:
“The archive was discovered in various boxes and a battered filing cabinet about four years ago when we were clearing out the basement of the Rio to build the second screen”.
“There has been a cinema on the site continuously since 1909, operating in various guises and under several different names as a silent cinema, a news and cartoon cinema, a continental arthouse cinema, and then as an adult porn and live striptease burlesque theatre, when this looked like closing in 1976 the local community stepped in to take over the lease”.
“The initiative was lead by groups who were based at the grassroots Centerprise bookshop which was opposite the cinema on Kingsland High St, the bookshop was at bursting point packed with many varied community groups who saw the cinema as a great potential space for films, theatre, live music, and to use the basement spaces for youth training”.
“This took the form of a music recording studio and rehearsal space for girls only, and a photography club with full darkroom and editing facilities”.
“The photography group trained up local young people and the unemployed to give them photography and reporting skills, the results of which were converted into glass slides to be shown on screen at the cinema in front of the films as a local news item”.
“The group known as the Rio Tape Slide Newsreel covered everyday life in Hackney and the many events and protests of the era, and local interest stories that occurred between 1983 and 1988”.
“Following this the project was largely forgotten about for over 27 years until we found the filling cabinets and boxes of slides four years ago, and began the detective work to find out their history, and started the restoration and digitisation process, to bring this amazing archive of Hackney life back into the public eye, to be used as a reference tool and educational resource, as it was originally intended”.
“And that is the story of how this archive came about”.
“We have been in contact with some of the original team who lead this project and they are very excited to see it back in use.”
British Culture Archive are happy to share some select images from the archive below:
Thanks to Andrew Woodyatt from the Rio Cinema. You can view the ongoing archive via the Rio Cinema Archive Instagram page here
The Rio has its 40th anniversary this year of being a community run non profit charity. You can find about any upcoming events here
Article by Paul Wright for British Culture Archive
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