Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The heirs of the East London Group

Friday, August 30th, 2019

 

A couple of years ago, the Spitalfields Life blog published a rather lovely book called East End Vernacular. It featured the work of the almost forgotten East London Group – a collection of painters who showed together from 1928 to 1936 and who all portrayed everyday life in a changing East End. They were mostly working class, realist painters who drew and painted what they saw around them. The book struck a real chord with me. As I’ve written many times before, I grew up in the 1970s in a grim and gloomy Hackney; a much changed landscape from the gentrified hipster hangout of today. As soon as I could, I fled the tower blocks and the grainy streets and made a career photographing (and sometimes writing about) the places that I could only imagine as a child. I spent more than two decades working (and sometimes living) mostly in Indian and Africa – but pretty much anywhere across the world that wasn’t where I was from. So the book was like a window into the past for me – more because it featured what I might call the heirs of those original artists. People like Jock McFadyen, Anthony Eyton and Dan Jones (a reproduction of whose painting of Brick Lane in the 1970s we now have on our wall at home) who painted a more contemporary vision of my formative streets.

A year ago I decided to try and photograph them all at home, in the studio or making work on the streets in a way to reconnect with my own past. The photographs connect in some way with my last book, The Englishman and the Eel as a form of re-discovery and trying (at last) to come to terms with that. It’s been a long process: a quick look at the embarrassingly extensive archive of this blog shows that I was stumbling around trying to find an answer to that more than ten years ago. See here for more on that.

Anyway, I digress. With the help of the Gentle Author, I managed to make contact with them all and each was generous with their time and thoughts. My only regret is of course being too late to manage to photograph one of my heroes, Leon Kossoff who had been ill for some time and died recently. He had a studio off Dalston Lane in the early 1970s and I remember seeing some of his work of my local area as a teenager and thinking clearly how the world could be made to seem different.

Here are three images from the portrait set of twelve. You can see the rest of them on my site here. For those technically minded, I wanted a clean, simple look to them all and decided rather than to shoot them as reportage, I’d use one or two Elinchrom Ranger heads on each set-up trying (OK… sometimes three) to make them look not lit but as natural as possible.

 

 

 

Adam Dant

 

Ronald Morgan

 

Peta Bridle

 

The curtain and the scuff

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Recently, for various reasons, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the debates around heritage in England in the 1980s (and 1990s) between Patrick Wright and Raphael Samuel. I suppose thoughts about who controls the narratives of the past (and why…) are on my mind. With the long march of the austerity project – a class war by any other name – and the framing of the Brexit debates around ‘our’ glorious past… I found myself walking, on an unusually chilly night in Lisbon recently, past a particularly fine example of an Art Deco cinema. Drawn by the unmistakable beat of a Tango Milonga, and a terrible sense of journalistic entitlement, I did what any nosey person would do and walked in.

Lisboans seem particularly adept at taking pity on lost, (purposely) niave journalists, especially those who have a very limited repertoire of Portuguese words peppered with poor French and Spanish. Especially those that walk into dance classes uninvited and want nothing more than to drink a small beer looking out to the river through the original Portuguese versions of dirty Crittall windows. When the bar isn’t actually open.

The same Lisboans, happily practising their Ochos that have seen their city invaded, like much of Southern Europe by the ravages of post-industrial-decline-tourism. People like me that come to stare at memory traces for their own reasons.

This is no longer a cinema but the home of a theatre company re-purposing the architecture. Like much of central Lisbon, actual sites of memory seem to have been transformed into what Pierre Nora called lieux de memoire where memory crystallizes and secretes itself. Hordes of millennials prowl the city looking for exactly the same Hoxton-ised smashed advocado-on-toast joints that they could find in any Globalised metropolis. And then Instagram themselves outside to prove they’ve been there. Perhaps I just hadn’t noticed before. It’s not that I crave authenticity and worthy-ness from places I visit – I just like difference. Things that are discernibly of-that-place. Certain parts of Lisbon remind me of the re-created East End – a sanitised simulacra of now hollowed-out working class communities represented by authentic and artisanal. Jane Jacobs must be absolutely spinning in her grave…

The scuffs however; the small patches of delightful shabbiness in the city and the politeness and patience of the Lisboans in the face of the hordes-in-shorts – as well as the small beer – is wonderful.

The irony of this image, taken on an iPhone with a Polaroid filter is of course not lost on me…