Since the mid-1960s, the British August Bank Holiday weekend has meant one thing: the Notting Hill Carnival. Led by members of the West Indian community, this legendary party has evolved over the years to be one of the world’s largest street festivals and a major date in the cultural life of the city. “Over 1.5 million people from different backgrounds, ages, and cultures all gather together to vibe for Carnival,” photographer Rio Blake tells Dazed. “Consequently, it’s probably the happiest weekend you’ll ever experience in London.”
In 2021, in response to the disappointment of the carnival being cancelled due to Covid for the second year running, Blake curated An Ode to Notting Hill Carnival at West London’s White City House. This photographic exhibition celebrated the famous street festival over the decades, bringing together joyful scenes from carnivals of the past and featuring the work of emerging London-based photographers such as Isaac J Cambridge, Holly-Marie Cato, and Stefy Pocket alongside acclaimed chroniclers of British street life Martin Parr and Matt Stuart.
“The exhibition was an idea I originally had last year, it literally started as a way to ease the pain of the first carnival cancellation,” Blake tells us. “Carnival is important because it champions London for what it is – a hub that celebrates diversity, inclusivity, and community. However, it also enhances these 'Londoner' qualities to the max, as everyone descends onto the streets of west London and gets together to experience the finest foods, sounds, and costumes.”
As London prepares for the beloved street festival this weekend, we revisit the imagery from An Ode to Notting Hill Carnival. Visit the gallery above for a closer look at some of the works which were part of the original exhibition.