In a Lonely Place
Pedley St Arch, Spitalfields, 1987
Photographer John Claridge told me that he enjoys his own company, which casts an equivocation upon the title he gave this set of pictures – published here for the first time – that he took in the East End between 1960 and 1987. As a kid photographer from Plaistow, succumbing to the thrall of Film Noir and Italian Neo-Realism, John set out with his camera to look at his own territory in the light of these inspirations. And the result is a collection of intriguingly moody images that reveal unexpected beauty, humanity, and even humour, in locations devoid of figures, yet tense with dramatic potential.
Two themes are emergent in these depopulated pictures of the East End in eternal half-light. One theme is the unlikely placing of familiar objects in locations that propose hidden narratives and the other theme is spaces that contain the anticipation of a human presence. Both are strategies inviting the viewer to ask questions, investigate the nature of the photograph and draw their own conclusion.
When John photographs a pair of shoes in the street, or a pram, or a pair of sofas, or an armchair, or even a clapped-out old car, there is always a sense that these things have been put there deliberately as part of a mysterious scenario, not abandoned but awaiting their owners’ return. Similarly, mannequins in a window or a picture of a girl used to repair a pane of glass, also appear meaningful in an unexplained way, asking us to do our own detective work. And the old sign announcing “News of the World” above a door unopened in years makes its own statement of existential significance. Scrutinise John’s picture of Upton Park station disappearing into the dawn mist, or the receding columns of E16, or the pictures of the Pedley St arch, each ripe with suspense. Would you be surprised to see a hoodlum in a fedora with a gun step from the shadows, or an amorous femme fatale in a trench coat come strolling to a rendezvous?
While many left the East End after the war to seek new lives in the suburbs, there were others who stayed and were comfortable living among the bombsites and empty houses, and in his youth John counted himself in the latter category. “I didn’t find it depressing,” he assured me, “because there was still a kind of community. I loved it. There was destruction everywhere yet you couldn’t destroy people’s spirits. But when they took their gardens away and put people in towers where they didn’t know their neighbours, that was destruction of another kind.”
John is keenly aware that outsiders may project their own tragic interpretations upon these pictures of dereliction but, as one who is not ashamed to call himself a Romantic, he asks – “Is it really a lonely place, or is it all in the mind?”
Mannequins, E1, 1968.
Pylon in Early Morning, E3, 1968.
News of the World, E1, 1968.
Shoes, E2, 1963.
Armchair, E1, 1965.
Lamp, E16, 1982.
Pram, E14, 1968.
Upton Park at Dawn, E13, 1966.
Circus Poster, E7, 1975.
Columns, E15, 1982.
Sewer Bank, E13, 1963.
Girl in the Window, E2, 1966.
End of the Street, E1, 1982
Ford, E13, 1961.
Beckton Gas Works, E6, 1987.
Volkswagon, E14, 1970.
Half a Building, E13, 1962.
Gravestones, E7, 1960.
Pedley St Arch, Spitalfields, 1987.
Photographs copyright © John Claridge
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