Ronald “Charlie” Phillips (born 1944) is a Jamaican-born restaurateur, photographer, and documenter of black London. He is now best known for his photographs of Notting Hill during the period of West Indian migration to London; however, his subject matter has also included film stars and student protests, with his photographs having appeared in Stern, Harper’s Bazaar, Life and Vogue and in Italian and Swiss journals. He came with his family to Notting Hill, London in 1956 and as a young man he travelled all over Europe. In 1968/9 he took photographs of the student riots in Paris and Rome. He had his first exhibition in Milan in 1972 where he showed photographs portraying the frustrations and difficulties of urban migrant workers.
Returning to London after several years, he lived “a bohemian life of squats and pop festivals. During the 1980s, he took photographs documenting West Indian funerals at Kensal Green Cemetery and other cemeteries in London. In 1989 he moved to south London to run a restaurant in Wandsworth, Smokey Joe’s Diner, during which time he did not pursue his career as a photographer.
A revival of interest in his work came with it being featured in an exhibition in the Tabernacle in Notting Hill in 1991, coinciding with the launch of his book of photographs, Notting Hill In the Sixties, introduced by the writer Mike Phillips. In recent years his work has been seen and lauded in numerous high profile exhibitions at prestigious venues such as the Museum of London (Through London’s Eyes, 2003; Roots to Reckoning, 2006), Tate Britain (How We Are: Photographing Britain, 2007), V&A (Staying Power: Photographs of Black British experience, 1950s“ 1990s, 2015), Photofusion Gallery (How Great Thou Art“ 50 Years of African Caribbean Funerals in London, 2014), National Portrait Gallery (Simon Schama’s Face of Britain, 2015), London Musée national de l'histoire de l'immigration, Paris France (Paris-London, 2019) and Somerset House (Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience: GET UP, STAND UP! - Generations of Black Creative Pioneers, 2019).
Portrait image - ©Aliyah Otchere.