I grew up in West London, between Queensway and Westbourne Grove. Every summer, the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest street festival celebration, was right on my doorstep.
‘Carnival, as Londoners affectionately term it, began in 1966 and has since been held every August bank holiday (a public holiday in the UK). Every year, as West London is transformed into the West Indies for two whole days, millions of people turn up to join in the celebration of Caribbean culture, camaraderie, and pride.
Notting Hill morphs into a 48-hour fiesta bursting with colour, SoCa music and bashment, coconuts and rum punch, jerk chicken and curry goat, sequins and bodies gyrating in parades, and the occasional drop of rain. Kids blow vuvuzelas from their parent’s shoulders; teen patriots bump against each other, wearing Caribbean flags around their shoulders as capes; cans of Red Stripe beer crack open over the furtive hissing of nitrox balloons.
Sometimes, Carnival gets a negative rap in the press.
But every year, it prevails with full force. It’s disappointing when someone writes off the festival because of isolated incidents. Police are stationed all over Notting Hill, anyway. More often than not, they turn blind eyes to sweet clouds of smoke, occasionally sharing dances with sassy señoritas. Do be careful of pickpockets, though.
As someone who not only attends the festival annually, but grew up in West London, I can assure you that preconceptions of danger at Carnival are far, far outweighed by the crazy, turned-up spirits of people that come to have fun. Even celebrities party hard; last year we found ourselves dancing beside Craig David and Lily Allen.
My friend, Kat, lives in the heart of Carnival. By ‘heart’, I mean that her road is (unfortunately) used for public toilets beside Westbourne Park Station. As a yearly tradition, I stay at her house the night before. We wake up to funky steel drums blaring from sound-systems and run out onto the empty streets before they fill with people, to revel in the pleasure of sitting on a pavement, eating freshly grilled jerk chicken and corn for breakfast.
The following photographs we took last year on Carnival Monday, better known as Adult’s Day. We wandered out at noon, when the rain had subsided into a drizzle, as the vibe was beginning to pick up. Once the sun broke out from behind the clouds, we cracked open the Red Stripe, met up with our friends, and danced until dusk.
These images, documented using black and white film on a vintage Canon-AE1, represent a vital part of our West London upbringing, summers, and memories. We hope you enjoy them.
Words can’t express how much Carnival has contributed to my sense of belonging as a Londoner. It’s a vital part of my upbringing, of the memories I’ve made with my friends, my family, and my city.
What I find most incredible about Carnival is that, despite its Caribbean origins and cultural purpose, the festival has grown personally significant to everyone who regularly attends it, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background. It’s pretty special; something uniquely London. At the end of the day, we’re in all this city together.
Kathrina Wainstok is a visual artist and illustrator based in the UK (www.kathrinawainstok.com).
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