Night at the Spitalfields Market, 1991
Last year, I published the first glimpse of the extraordinary unseen trove of over three thousand photographs taken by photographers Mark Jackson & Huw Davies during the last year of the Spitalfields Fruit & Vegetable Market before it moved out. Then I was only able to show you the few prints which existed, but now the Bishopsgate Institute has scanned all the negatives, it is my pleasure to publish more, chosen from the entire corpus of photographs recording the old market which traded in Spitalfields from 1638 until 1991.
In this selection, I have chosen pictures that convey the nocturnal drama of the market and although they were taken only twenty years ago, they seem now to be images from the eternal night of history – with fleeting figures endlessly running, fetching and carrying, pushing barrows from the flaring lights out into the velvet blackness, where a bonfire burns beneath the great tower of Christ Church, Spitalfields, looming overhead.
Mark Jackson & Huw Davies were poets with cameras, aware that they were in an epic world with its own codes and customs, and they recognised the imperative to record it before it disappeared. No one asked them and no one paid them – as recent graduates, Mark & Huw shared a tiny flat and worked, as a courier and in a restaurant respectively, to buy film and subsidise their project. Each evening they took the last tube to Liverpool St Station and spent the night at the market, taking pictures and befriending the traders, before going straight back to work again in the morning, often without any sleep.
Like many of the most inspiring cultural projects, this remarkable body of photography was the result of individuals pursuing their own passion – Mark & Huw were committed to record what no one else was interested to look at. Neither became photographers, their greater project to record all the London markets was reluctantly abandoned when they went off to pursue other careers, but their Spitalfields Market photographs remain as an unrivalled achievement in the photography of markets.
Mark & Huw had only the resources to print a tiny fraction of their photographs, which means that this is the first time anyone has seen many of these pictures. Although there is a vivid realism in these photographs, there is an ethereal quality too, especially as many figures exist as mere shadows against the glimmering lights of the market. After the recent architectural interventions, there is an emptiness in the Spitalfields Market now it has been cleaned up, a tangible absence of everything that is here in these pictures. The chaotic beauty of market life has gone and these shadows haunt the market today.
Photographs copyright © Mark Jackson & Huw Davies
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