Photographer Ben Roberts shares portraits and street reportage from the technicolour celebration of multicultural London that is Notting Hill Carnival.

Photographer Ben Roberts shares portraits and street reportage from the technicolour celebration of multicultural London that is Notting Hill Carnival.

This year’s Notting Hill Carnival didn’t manage to escape London’s summer showers, but the mood throughout was, as always, electric.

The yearly explosion of music, food, dance and colour is an amazing celebration of multicultural London and the biggest event in the cultural calendar for London’s Caribbean community.

Before moving to Madrid, photographer Ben Roberts headed out onto the streets of west London to amass an awesome selection of portraits and street reportage that reveal the diverse crowd of all ages and races that make Carnival unlike any other event in the capital.

What first attracted you to shoot at Carnival?
I first went to the carnival as a punter, it must have been around 2006. I’d moved to London that year after leaving college, and it just made sense to go. I went again the following year, but didn’t actually take photographs until 2008. At that point I had just spent two years photographing electro-indie in East London, and felt like I needed a change of scene. I had developed a method of working from shooting in nightclubs, using a quite powerful handheld flash to isolate moments of intimacy and stark portraits, and thought that the carnival would make a great canvas for this direct style.

What’s your favourite aspect of Carnival?
As a photographer it has to be the almost constant action. It’s quite a challenge to filter down what is worth photographing, and who is going to make a good subject. It helped that I really enjoyed the carnival and was always with a group of friends, some of whom lived locally to Notting Hill – I found that with a smile on my face, people were open to getting involved in my pictures. As a visitor, my favourite part of the carnival is the food, and finding pockets of great music and good vibes when you least expect it. One of my favourite sound systems is Rapattack, where the energy levels always seem to be pretty high. There’s something for everybody though.

Are you now a Carnival expert?
I’ve been to Carnival five times, but its been two years since my last visit, so in reality I am still a bit of a novice! I’m based in Madrid now, and am writing this while on holiday in New York, so I won’t be there this year either. While I haven’t been to carnival enough times to have seen it change, it was uplifting to be in attendance in 2011 just after the riots – there was a concern that the borough council wouldn’t let it go ahead, but fortunately it did, and the vibe that year was the best that I have experienced; I guess that there was a real desire from everyone involved to prove the doubters wrong and put on a really positive show.

How did you approach the event? Were you looking for stories or just letting your eyes wander?
In 2008 I very much just tried to be a part of the Carnival (dancing, having a few drinks, being with my friends) and would photograph people who we came into contact with. The next time I photographed carnival was in 2012, just after the Olympic Games; This time I took a totally different approach, and set up a studio at a club called ‘The Flyover’ that is right in the heart of the action at Ladbroke Grove. I picked out people from the passing crowds and tried to photograph a cross section of carnival-goers. While these photographs don’t have the immediacy of the images from the streets, I think they capture the diversity of people who are drawn from around the city for those two days.

Find out more about Ben’s work.