The Last of the 43 Group


When I was a boy, I used to walk the ‘Lane with my father on a Sunday. We’d sometimes see men selling the National Front’s rag on the corner of Bethnal Green Road beneath a tatty Union flag. This was the 1970s: a troubled time where the certainties of the post-war settlement were under threat. This was the time of Rock Against Racism and the murder of Blair Peach, where racism, nationalism and bigotry were presented in some quarters as appealing and even respectable. How times don’t change.

But each generation remembers its own battles. In the ‘90s I became a photographer, and, for a very short time, I started to make images of the ‘Lane and inevitably saw the same men selling the same newspapers under the same tatty flag.

In 1996 I made a set of portraits and interviews for the Independent on Sunday Magazine of the veterans of the International Brigades who had fought fascists in Spain some sixty years before. Many had to go and fight the same battles again across the world in 1939. A few talked about the resurgence of fascism after the war and how, when interned Blackshirts were released from prison they started to organise, prompting a far-right revival.

It was then I read Maurice Beckman’s book about the 43 Group – a historically significant but largely forgotten organisation of mostly (but not exclusively) Jewish ex-servicemen (and some extraordinarily brave women) who had returned from the horrors of war only to find fascism again on their own doorstep. I read how they resolved to fight back; to physically oppose the menace; to meet violence with violence to protect their communities. And how they had done so against the wishes of their elders and representatives.

My father lived in a poor, bomb-damaged street in Stoke Newington and, as a young man in 1947 had seen the savage violence of the long-forgotten battles of Dalston and Ridley Road. Battles unremembered but perhaps no less significant than Cable Street. I’d resolved to find those men that had stood up to a new generation of Mosley’s thugs and record them for posterity. But I never did; I spent the next two decades working and living across the world as a photo-reporter. I forgot.

Last year, I read Daniel Sonabend’s wonderful, forensic and compelling new history of the 43 Group, ‘We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post-war Britain’ (Verso, 2019) and I knew that I needed to make these images to remember before it was too late.

By the turn of this year, there were only six of the original members left. I photographed them just before lockdown and, last weekend, the Observer Newspaper ran the pictures as a tribute to their courage.

Tragically, Maurice Podro passed away a week before the photographs were first published and so these images are shown in his memory.

We forget at our cost.

(This text appears on the Spitalfields Life blog.)

Here’s the tearsheet from the Observer piece that can be found here

The heirs of the East London Group


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


Andrzej Krauze

After visiting Hackney twice in the last month for the first time in several years (once to work on a story and once to mentor a young photographer), I’m currently re-reading Patrick Wright‘s excellent ‘On living in an old country‘. Wright’s one of those brilliant cultural commentators who should be far better known and the edition I’m reading (because I lost my original copy) has illustrations by another underrated genius, the Polish cartoonist, Andrzej Krauze. I knew Krauze from his biting satire in the Guardian and a few years ago, I got to photograph him for a magazine. I remember that I had very little time (it wasn’t his fault) and that I didn’t have chance to put up the usual lighting rig. Anyway, here are two images from the job… I remembering noticing the label that reads ‘Mr Pen’ at the top right of the chest of drawers he kept his work in…

UK - London - Polish cartoonist Andrzej Krauze at his studio
UK - London - Polish cartoonist Andrzej Krauze at his studio




Dulce — No — Decorum — No — Pro patria mori

It’s been some weeks since the lives of two of the world’s oldest men came to a close. I’ve been out of the country a good deal recently and missed the chance to comment on Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, both veterans of ‘the war to end all wars‘. However, this morning, I noticed that the Hackney Gazette carried a story that Hackney Council is going to name a street after Allingham as he was born, like me, in Clapton.

I never met Allingham but I photographed Patch years ago for a Swiss Magazine whose name I’m afraid escapes me. Without criticism, it was Patch, buried without the military pomp that intrigued me more.

What stuck me about him was that he was a very, very ordinary man that by dint of a genetic fluke had lived on to become, very reluctantly, a living symbol of the Great War. An everyman. The Last Tommy. He seemed to me almost guilty about surviving and I suppose that isn’t uncommon for veterans who have seen their comrades fall. What was extraordinary was that he never spoke about the war until he was 100. When he did speak about it, it was to condemn utterly the futility and cruelty of what he had seen. I remember him, rasping in a soft, slow West country burr, how when he and his comrades were forced to open up on advancing Germans, they’d made a pact to try and shoot for their legs in order to avoid killing them. That to me seemed absurdly brave. His criticism of war (recently enshrined in a tribute by the band Radiohead) was no less telling. ‘Give your leaders each a gun and let them fight it out themselves…”.

UK - Somerset - Harry Patch, WW1 veteran
UK - Somerset - Harry Patch, WW1 veteran

nb. The title refers to a line from Carol Anne Duffy‘s poem, ‘The Last Post‘ and is a reference to Wilfred Owen‘s quoting of Horace‘s words, “Dolce et Decorum est pro paria mori” (“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”).

Why Umbra Sumus?

The first question people asked me was ‘why are you doing a blog?’. The second was ‘why have you called it something daft like that?’.

The ‘why’ about having a blog is easy – the pretentious title is a little more tricky. Bear with me.

Those of you that know me know that I grew up in Hackney. A tricky place – “worst services, best crime” as Iain Sinclair would have it in That Red Rose Empire. In the 1970’s when the Holly Street estate in Dalston was a byword for all that was wrong with urban town planning, crime and decay, I sometimes used to go with my father to Brick Lane on a Sunday. The ‘Lane in those days was a very different place. Full of pavement stalls selling one shoe, dirty second hand clothes and the like. At one end would be the Spitalfields market where you could still see the tramps as we used to call them drinking themselves to death with meths around bonfires of refuse and rotting vegetables. At the other end would be Club Row, an infamous market for pets and small animals. You could buy all manner of bizarre creatures from all manner of bizarre creatures. At this end too would be the regular National Front demonstration: a handful of men with Union Jacks in a little corner snarling at the Bangladeshi’s that walked past. None of this meant particularly much to me as a boy. I used to walk through the swarming crowds oblivious to the now well documented history of the area. For my father, though he never spoke about it, this had a resonance. A ‘rubbish’ Jew as my non-Jewish mother always said (with a penchant for bacon and no idea of the religious duties thousands of years of Judaism had passed to him) we’d walk past the Nazis which of course echoed the speeches of Mosley that he would have heard in Ridley Road Market in the thirties (and indeed fiftees) as he grew. We’d also walk past the Mosque on Brick Lane that used to be a synagogue that was the heart of the old Jewish East end. On the side, high up – so far that if you looked, you’d certainly bump into someone coming the other way – was a sundial. The title page of this blog is the inscription on the sundial on that palimpsest of a building.

Built in 1743 the imposing square frame was originally a church built by the Huguenots, French Protestants exiled from their homelands who came to the area, a slum outside the city gates where they built beautiful houses and prospered. The inscription “we are but shadows” in Latin seemed to echo the refugee experience that I suppose I am part of. I’ve never worked much in England, never felt the need as many photographers do, to explore their  surroundings. For me, I was always interested in the Other. Perhaps it was about escape, a desperate run from Hackney. The world is a big place and we don’t have long: ‘we are but shadows’ reminds me of the impermanence and transitory nature of what we are – and I wanted to know as much of the world as I could. Photography has in some small measure allowed me to do that.
Ironically, when I started as a photographer I was drawn to these places that I had walked with my (even then elderly) father. Quite by accident I’d stumbled on the last days of the Jewish East End – specifically an organisation called “Food for the Jewish Poor” – a charity that had once given soup and later tins of food to the last elderly Jewish survivors of the area. I turned up and asked if I could hang around and take some pictures for my portfolio. Little did I know that I was following in the footsteps of the sadly underrated Sharon Chazan a young photographer who a few years before had undertaken a large project to record much of Jewish London and was murdered by one of her elderly subjects, Moshe Drukash. A strange, tragic happening in an area of strange, tragic happenings.

Shadows on shadows.

Here are some of the images that I made. I only found them a few days ago… They’ve never been seen publicly before and I hadn’t seen them for nearly twenty years…

An old man leaves the Soup Kitchen in Brune Street in East London which was erected by the Jewish community in 1902 to provide charitable support for Jewish immigrants to the area. The facility closed in the early 1990's as more and more of the original Jewish residents died or moved. The charity gave free food to elderly Jewish residents of the area
An old man leaves the Soup Kitchen in Brune Street in East London which was erected by the Jewish community in 1902 to provide charitable support for Jewish immigrants to the area. The facility closed in the early 1990's as more and more of the original Jewish residents died or moved. The charity gave free food to elderly Jewish residents of the area
An old man collects his grocery allowance from the Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor in Brune Street near Brick Lane.
An old man collects his grocery allowance from the Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor in Brune Street near Brick Lane.
An old woman collects her grocery allowance from the Soup Kitchen
An old woman collects her grocery allowance from the Soup Kitchen
An old boxer poses for the camera while he waits for his weekly food parcel from the Soup Kitchen at
An old boxer poses for the camera while he waits for his weekly food parcel from the Soup Kitchen

The Soup Kitchen is now expensive flats for wealthy City types and my father is long gone.

Umbra Sumus.