Spitalfields Market Portraits, 1991
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
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