Women on Screens: Printmaking, photography and community activism at Lenthall Road Workshop 1970s–1990s

Black and white photograph of the artist Claudette Johnson, dressed in overalls, using screen-printing equipment at the Lenthall Road Workshop.
Artist Claudette Johnson screen-printing at Lenthall Road Workshop, 1980s. © Lenthall Road Workshop.

This series explores the history of the radical visual imagery created at the Lenthall Road Workshop in Haggerston between the 1970s – 1990s. These images were made collectively and tell stories of activism, skill sharing and empowerment.

Introduction

The Lenthall Road Workshop was started by three women in 1975 as a community screen-printing and photography project. Local groups and individuals were offered a cheap and friendly space to learn skills and use the equipment to make their own images and posters. Over a 15-year period numerous groups came through the little yellow door at 81 Lenthall Road to do just that.

From making posters of women racing in wheelchairs and protesting on the streets, to teaching printing and photography, the Lenthall Road Workshop encouraged the local community, especially women and girls, to empower themselves.

The collective made a unique contribution to the local and national community arts movement and feminisms of the 1970s and 1980s.

As soon as we were in our boiler suits and masks we really looked like guerrilla fighters. We were definitely trying to change something in society; to change how women were viewed in society.

Claudette Johnson, Worker
Designed and printed by Chia Moan and Kathy Andrew, this poster advertises a women’s bike ride from Epping Forest to London Fields to raise money for charity.
© Lenthall Road Workshop

Beginnings

In the early 1970s Jim Shallcross ran a commercial screen-printing business at 81 Lenthall Road and also printed posters there for Centerprise, a community publishers, bookshop and café on Kingsland Road, Dalston.

In 1975, when he decided to give up the business, three women, Chia Moan, Viv Mullett and Jenny Smith saw an opportunity for a community printing workshop for local people.

Jim gave them a crash course in screen-printing and Centerprise agreed to pay the rent, rates and utility bills for the first six months. With help from the new Community Arts fund at the Arts Council of Great Britain, the workshop was soon able to open its doors.

The workshop also aimed to support photography at a time when photographs had to be processed in a ‘darkroom’ with special equipment. Fortunately, living next door to the workshop was Ernie Greenwood, photographer for the Hackney Communist Party and the socialist newspaper Morning Star. He shared his equipment with the Lenthall Road Workshop in exchange for moving his darkroom into it.

Jim Shallcross and Eithne Nightingale, 1970s.
Courtesy of Eithne Nightingale.
Posters

Screen-printing allowed for new posters to be produced regularly as a cost-effective way of communicating to particular target audiences and promoting upcoming events.

The positioning and attractive designs often competed against each other on hoardings, walls and public spaces across Hackney.

“If you wanted to know what was going on, you would go to one of those print workshops.”

Chia Moan, Worker
Lesbian Celebration Poster, 1981.
© Lenthall Road Workshop

Content for this blog has been created in collaboration with former Lenthall Road workers: Claudette Johnson, Ingrid Pollard, Nicole Superville, Barbara Tombs, Rebecca Wilson with Jess Baines of See Red.

It featured in the exhibition ‘Women on Screens: Printmaking, photography and community activism at Lenthall Road Workshop 1970s–1990s’ at Hackney Museum 14 May – 31 August 2019.

4 comments

  1. Smashing, uplifting stories of what was going on in the area in the ’70-’90s pre-gentrification… do you have any stories from the perspective of the women and girls that took part in the workshops? Were any enabled to ‘break free’ and radically alter their life’s trajectory? And, dare I ask, is it better now than it was then?

    Reply
  2. Hello I am so glad I found your blog, I really found you by mistake,
    while I was searching on Google for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just
    like to say kudos for a fantastic post and a all round
    entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t
    have time to go through it all at the moment but I have book-marked
    it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read much more, Please do keep up the awesome b.

    Reply
    • Thank you for the kind words! Please do come back and explore the rest of the series when you have the chance. We have now finished ‘Women On Screens’, but have started our latest series ‘Roots, Rhythms & Records’ exploring African and Caribbean music in the borough. Be sure to check it out!

      Reply

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