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Birmingham Project

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Photograph: Windrush, Nottinghill Carnival © Tracey Thorne, 2019

Exploring Windrush What Does it Mean to you


On 21 June 1948, the Empire Windrush laid anchor at Tilbury Docks, with her passengers disembarking the following day. The Empire Windrush carried hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean who, alongside people from other parts of the Commonwealth, came to the UK to fill post-war labour shortages. The “Windrush Generation” became the symbolic shorthand for people who came to work or join family in the UK between 1948 and 1973, particularly from Caribbean countries.


The 75th anniversary of the arrival of MV Empire Windrush at the Port of Tilbury marks a seminal moment in our country'shonor shared history. To honour the Windrush generation and their immense contribution to this country.  Across the country during the year and on Nationalpay Windrush Day 22nd June communities across the country will play tribute to the Windrush generation and their descendants. 

The Windrush 75 Birmingham Project is a community project that invites people to joinindividuals us to explore what Windrush means to us either as indviduals, as families, as a community, and as a City. We will be using a cyanotype photgraphic process to help people to share stories, build collective memory and come together.  


The project is funded by the connectNational Lottery Community Fund anareonnects to the wider Windrush 75 celebrations that our happening across Britain in 2023. 

Free Creative Workshops

The project invites people from all sections of the community to join us and take part in creative workshops running we especially welcome Birmingham's Windrush communities to get involved. 


We will be using the cameraless cyanotype (blueprints) photographic process where people will be able to share stories using text, photographs, and objects to make a print on to cotton fabric panels, all events are free, and materials provideare d.


Click the links to see upcoming dates or follow us on Facebook


We will also be running other sessions in partnership with local community organisations and attending various Windrush 75 events in Birmingham as part of the project.

Making Cyanotypes, Memories and Windrush 

We have been running a series of creative workshops in Birmingham to help people think about what Windrush means to them, their families, thier community, and as a city. The project connects to the 75 Windrush anniversary and was close to our hearts as we are linked to the Windrush stories. 

The project is based around using a carmeraless photographic process known as cyanotype (sometimes called Blue Prints or Sun Prints) as a tool for sharing stories, and memories and helping us connect. We have provided people with the chance to join a free workshop to learn, create, share, and have fun. All materials and training were provided, and each workshop was led by photo artist Tracey Thorne and another member of our team.














The cyanotype process is a photographic process that uses either sunlight or a UV lamp to make an image on fabric or paper. 

The word “photography” derives from the Greek words for light (phōs) and drawing (graphé). So, it's safe to say that inventors and photographers have developed many innovative ways of “drawing with light.” One method that was introduced in the 19th century was cyanotype photography—an early photographic process known for the brilliant blue (cyan) hue of the final print.

In 1854 the Botanist and photographer Anna Atkins created a series of images preserving nature using the cyanotype photographic process, which she published in a book she made by hand called Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. This was the first known use of the process and since then photographers, artists, and people in communities all over the world have used this same method to make cyanotype prints. The boundaries of this practice has widened beyond the early use of photographing botanical specimens on paper,  widened with time and refelcts the modern times we live in inculding a range of digital techniques. 

During our project, we have helped people to explore this practice to help them learn about the process, have fun, and experiment to make some prints that connect and explore Windrush. 

We have run sessions themed around;


  • Back A Yard - using botanicals

  • The Front Room - using lace and dollies

  • Roots of love - exploring the family photograph


We printed on a range of papers during the workshops and pre-treated fabric cyanotype sheets (we used Jacquard products).  

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Photograph (2023) Botanical cyanotype made during a workshop on a fabric sheet. The print has just been exposed to the sun and is about to be washed to reveal the prussian blue.

The Front Room of a West Indian family home in the 1960s and 1970s was a space of sanctuary, conveying a burgeoning Black British style as well as memories of a life left behind. We used some images and inspiration from photographer Michael McMillan work on the Front Room to think about how we could use objects commonly found in the Carribean front rooms to make cyanotypes to provide a way of sharing stories and provoking memory. Our sessions mainly focused around using lace and paper dollies .  

Photograph (2023) Lace cyanotypes made during a workshop on fabric at Birmingham Settlement in Aston. The print has just washed to reveal the Prussian blue.

Roots of Love - A photo album is an intimate object that plays an important role in the construction and image of family life. An album presents a visual narrative that can influence how a family or a community is seen as well as evoking memories that expose moments in time and space. We set out at the start of the project hoping that people would feel comfortable sharing personal family photographs in our workshops to help them to explore the image again by printing in by hand using the cyanotype process. We hardly print photographs anymore and the act of bringing a photograph from the past or even the recent past can be a powerful tool to help us share stories and build collective memory. 

We called this part of the workshop Roots of Love and used a mixture of digital contemporary images as well as scanning old photographs to then create a monochrome digital negative (printed on OHP laser acetate) to use in the cyanotype process as shown in step 2 below. 

Notting Hill Carnival Windrush Bus (2019) cyanotype on fabric printed by hand using a digital negative, © Tracey Thorne

Our lead artist Tracey Thorne created the digital negatives using Photoshop and then printed them in advance of each session. The negatives were printed on either pre-coated paper prepared by Tracey Thorne or pre-treated fabric sheets bought and ready to use. Pre-treated fabric sheets work better for use in community workshops as they come already sealed and can be stored safely for several months. Whereas pre-coated fabric on paper or if done by the artist would need to be exposed within 24 hours.


The cyanotype chemicals when exposed to UV light start to expose so sheets are only given to the participants once they are ready to start making their cyanotype photograph. This is done by 1) placing the paper or fabric on a board,  2) the negative is then placed over the top immediately and 3) a piece of glass is then placed on top of the negative secured by clips around the side - making a contact frame. 

The image is then ready to place in the sun or under a UV lamp for between 5 and 15 minutes see next steps below.

  • Image 1 is the image being put out in the sub to be exposed and

  • Image 2 the negative has been exposed onto the fabric and is now ready to wash to get all the chemicals out. Image 3 cyanotypes hung on a washing line in the yard to dry (it can take upto 48 hours for the blue to develop once dried, they best dried away from direct sun light). 


Windrush Migration  Mural (2019) photographed in St Pauls Bristol © Tracey Thorne shown here as stages of the cyanotype printing process using a digital negative by workshop participants 


Workshop participants made a series of prints from their personal family photographs we have shared below some examples but we are sensitive to the personal nature of the work therefore it is intentional to not post all of the work made in the workshops.   We hope through the work to show the benefits of using the cyanotype process to help people share stories, to build collective memory, and as a mindful community arts practice to help bring people together. 

In our August workshop at the Old Prints Works, we invited workshop participants to help us make a giant cyanotype linked to the 2023 World Cyanotype theme of 'Inheritance' which we felt connected with the Windrush project.  The cyanotype explores the the theme of inheritance of second and third-generation British/Jamaican people whose parents and grandparents may have settled in Britain in the 1960/70s. 

We used a giant pre-treated satin cotton mural sheet made by Jacquard Products (size 1.52m x 2.13m) and exposed it for 15 minutes (quite a sunny day) then we washed it in tap water before hanging it to dry.  

We talked about the mural within the context of a beautiful quote by Michele Obama and this helped us think of name for it - The Light We Carry linked closely to the theme of inheritance and how people from the past are a little bit of light. 


I believe that each of us carries a bit of inner brightness, something entirely unique and individual, a flame that’s worth protecting. When we are able to recognize our own light, we become empowered to use it. When we learn to foster what’s unique in the people around us, we become better able to build compassionate communities and make meaningful change. 

Michele Obama

Windrush Project

Photograph (2023) The Light We Carry

Large cyanotype blueprint on fabric mural sheet in the Yard at the Old Print Works in Balsall Heath, Birmingham.

For more information about the project contact us here

Check out our photo project Windrush Gallery


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