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Spitalfields Market Portraits, 1991

June 29, 2011
by the gentle author

Following yesterday’s selection of nocturnal images chosen from more than three thousand photographs taken by Mark Jackson & Huw Davies in the last year of the Fruit & Vegetable Market in Spitalfields in 1991, it is my pleasure today to publish this gallery of portraits of market traders from the same source.

When Mark and Huw arrived at the market, they often separated to pursue different lines of inquiry, convened regularly through the night to compare results. Huw, the more more experienced photographer of the two, might set up the ambitious wide shots of the market and wait for figures to walk into the frame, while Mark, who did not even know how to load a camera at first, would chat with traders and snap portraits. And thus their different qualities complemented each other, so that today the body of pictures detailing the life of market exists as a totality in which the work of each photographer cannot be disentangled from the other.

All these portraits were the result of conversations as the photographers came to know their subjects. Always, conversation came first and once both parties were comfortable, the pictures were taken. As the traders came to appreciate the project, more were keen to have their portraits done, waving the photographers over and demanding a picture. It was an event that grew more frequent as the closure approached, and those who had spent their working lives there were desirous of being photographed in their market. They wanted their existence recorded along with their fellows.

There was a rigor imposed upon the endeavour by the cost of the film and the limitation of the budget, giving value to every single frame. At first, Mark & Huw bought cheap second hand cameras that broke and then they saved for months to buy new Nikon cameras and lenses, including a precious 35mm lens for portraits which they shared between them. And, to save money they bought great rolls of film and wound it into their cameras, but it quite often got damaged by fingerprints in the process.

Then, each weekend when the market was closed, Mark & Huw filled the bath in their tiny flat with smelly chemicals mixed up from powder and developed the week’s films, hanging them with clothes pegs on strings to dry – and sometimes the mix of the developer was wrong and the pictures came out too dark. Yet in spite of all these limitations, and the resultant pitfalls and mishaps, Mark & Huw were able to produce the splendid, emotionally-charged portraits which you see here and, thanks to them, we are able to meet the Spitalfields Market traders of 1991 face to face.

Photographs copyright © Mark Jackson & Huw Davies

You can see the original selection of

Mark Jackson & Huw Davies’ Photographs of the Spitalfields Market

and read about

Night at the Spitalfields Market, 1991

The Return of Mark Jackson

9 Responses leave one →
  1. June 29, 2011

    Awesome! Thanks

  2. June 30, 2011

    Amazingly old fashioned looking – and poignant.

  3. June 30, 2011

    Fabulous faces, full of character, thankyou.

  4. July 1, 2011

    I am so moved when I see history of a place in a person’s face. Especially when that place is London. It makes me want to cry at the beauty of this world.

  5. Peter Biernis permalink
    January 6, 2012

    Awsome pictures I can remember as a young lad delivering veg to Spitalfields most nights of the week. I remember the characters that worked there. Also the burger bar near the ten bells pub. They used to do awsome egg and bacon rolls.
    The wife used to come with some nights and go off around the market and come back with arms full of fruit think she used to chat the old boys up lol

  6. Carol Servis permalink
    December 20, 2012

    Great pictures, brings back my childhood & teenage years, my father worked & dropped dead there, my brother worked there, and l went to Central Foundation Girls School in Spital Square.

  7. Barbara Hague permalink
    October 15, 2013

    Fascinating pictures. I would really love portraits of people who worked there a hundred years before – including my great-grandfather and great uncle – Harpers by name.

  8. John Millard permalink
    December 27, 2013

    On reading the comments of Barbara Hague, I have also been looking into the history of Spitalfields and have Harpers as relations. James William Harper had a shop in South Street and his mother Jane also had a shop.
    If Barbara would like to contact me I have some more information

  9. April 7, 2014

    Love all the photos , Bought back some lovely memories . Visited three days a week with my Gran & grandad . Thats when most fruit from kent was sol in old wicker barskits . One thing i miss in the photos was one of the old hot &jellied ell stall stood under the clock ..I was six years old then , 70 years ago .

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