The Front Room Portraits: Diaspora Migrant Aesthetics in the Home

Friday 4 August

Dr Michael McMillan will take inspiration from his much loved and critically praised installation The Front Room to examine the evolution of becomingness and subjectivity in Black British photography as displayed in the migrant home.


With reference to Black style, gender, sexuality, desire, aspiration, pleasure and the dressed body as performance, Michael will give a multi-media presentation including numerous archive and contemporary formal portraits and everyday snaps featured in different iterations of The Front Room.

Many migrant families have formal portraits of relatives adorning the walls of their living rooms of stylishly dressed, but often seriously looking grandparents, parents, uncles, aunties, and cousins from back home. Equally, post-war West Indian, African and Southeast Asian migrant family settlers in Britain had similar portraits taken but in their front rooms, where they appeared more relaxed and settled in their own homes, and as a result they smiled more.

Michael will also invite you to share your own personal memories and stories of formal portraits and everyday snaps in your home.

These visual documents sent to relatives and friends back home along with the formal portraits taken in high street studios like Harry Jacobs, in Brixton, announced an aspirational modernity, with some sitters leaning against props like a classical Greek column or answering an unconnected telephone. The emergence of cheaper cameras and film signified the democratisation of photography where everyday snaps mounted in photo albums often included dapperly dressed men and women standing against an unknown fashionable car.

Copies of the new edition of The Front Room: Diaspora Migrant Aesthetics in the Home, published by Lund Humphries /, will be available through the V&A Bookshop, followed by a booking signing with Dr Michael McMillan.

Celebrates the opening of the V&A New Photography Centre.

Images – Left: Michael McMillan and sister Valerie, High Wycombe, c. 1969. Photo courtesy Michael McMillan & Photograph by Neil Kenlock, ‘Untitled [A young girl speaking on her parents’ telephone in South London]’, C-type print, London, 1973, printed 2011