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Born on the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1935, Raphael Albert moved to London in 1953. Studying photography at Ealing Technical College while working part-time at a cake factory, he soon picked up freelance jobs for black British papers such as West Indian World, The Gleaner, Caribbean Times, and New World, and also started to document the West Indian communities in Hammersmith and Fulham, photographing weddings, Christenings and other social events, and taking studio portraits of local families in his home.

In 1970 he established the Miss Black and Beautiful contest, followed by Miss West Indies in Great BritainMiss Teenager of the West Indies in Great Britain, and Miss Grenada, running them via his company, Albert Promotions, and going on to set up a magazine called Charisma in 1984. The pageants ran for 30 years and he documented them all photographically, as well as commissioning other photographers to shoot them, and in 2007 he organised a display of their work during Black History Month titled Great Britain: Celebrating 30 Years of Beauty Pageants (1963-1993). Albert died in 2009.

Now Autograph ABP has put together a touring show of his beauty contest shots, Albert’s first major exhibition. On show at Birmingham’s MAC until 01 July, it shows the regular accoutrements of bathing suits and high heels, but also the ‘Black is Beautiful’ aesthetic of the 1970s – and beyond.

Raphael Albert – Miss Black and Beautiful is on show until 01 July at MAC Birmingham, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham B12 9QH https://macbirmingham.co.uk https://autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/miss-black-and-beautiful

‘The Harder They Come’, Hammersmith Apollo, London, c. 1972. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Beauty queen posing against alpine backdrop, London, 1970s. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Beauty queen, London, 1970s. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Miss Black & Beautiful flanked by two men, Hammersmith Palais, London, 1970s. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Miss West Indies in Great Britain contestant at Blythe Road, London, 1970s. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Miss West Indies in Great Britain , London, late 1970s/80s. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Model posing against backdrop, London, 1970s. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Beauty Salon, London, c.1960s. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Crowned beauty queen with fellow contestants, London, 1970s. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. Courtesy of © Raphael Albert/Autograph ABP
Woman waiting in dancehall, London, 1970s. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Winner of Miss Teenager of the West Indies in Great Britain Heat 1 posing, Blythe Road, London, 1976. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Miss Dyke & Dryden Yvonne James, London, 1972. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. Courtesy of © Raphael Albert/Autograph ABP
Miss Teenager of the West Indies in Great Britain contestant Pauline Enigbokan, Blythe Road, London, 1977. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Beauty pageant contestant on stage, London, 1970s/1980s. From the portfolio ‘Black Beauty Pageants’. © Raphael Albert, courtesy Autograph ABP
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy

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