Graphics & Graffiti
Bethnal Green 1969
“I’m for Street Art but not the defiling of beautiful things, so I thought let’s look at this period when graffiti had a different kind of expression.” photographer John Claridge said to me, introducing these pictures of graphics and graffiti from the East End, published here for the first time. Before the culture of tagging came from across the Atlantic to dominate the streets, graffiti manifested itself differently, as these political examples – above and below – illustrate.
John does not see any absolute distinction between graffiti and graphics, both are representations of language – whether graven on walls or painted on fascias – and they spoke to him in a symphony of diverse cacophonous voices when he walked these familiar streets “Typography was always around me in the East End, whether I went to the fairground or the market there was always lettering.” he recalled, “So that when I got the job at McCann Erickson at fifteen and met Robert Brownjohn, one of the finest typographers, my eyes were already open to the power of typography, how it communicates on many levels and how it can take you places emotionally.”
In John’s eyes, every piece of graffiti or graphics illustrates the intentions of those who put it there and he delights in interpreting the different sensibilities at play which combine to create the rich visual texture of the streetscape. ”I’ve got some wood type and to use it you’ve got to make decisions, so there’s an underlying meaning to everything, but when lettering is automated you don’t think about it.” he explained to me wryly, taking pleasure in the human quality of typography done by hand and the vibrant culture of marks on the wall that extends back to the earliest cave art.
Urinal, Spitalfields 1969 - “Wages not war profits. Houses not subs. Tory or Labour = Tory. Fight for a wage increase.”
Burton, Whitechapel 1982. - “It’s like entering a temple.”
Pedley St Bridge, Spitalfields, 1987 - “this records the beginning of the tagging that dominates today.”
Neals Rapid Crane, Silvertown 1963.
Three Flags, 1964 - “What kind of shop puts an empty box in the window?”
Mixed Spice, 1976 - “In the old spice warehouse in Wapping. I just thought these stencils were beautiful, used and put back on the table.”
Mental Illness, Spitalfields 1969.
Weaver House, Spitalfields 1982. - “See how they spelled ‘for.’ That’s graffiti calling for help.”
Ajax Works, E14 1982.
Dance Wall, Bethnal Green 1964.
Window, Spitalfields 1968 - “It was a derelict place but someone had pinned up this delicate stuff.”
French Polisher, Spitalfields 1961 – “It must have been a wonderful shop at one time.”
Weddings a Speciality, E14 1982 -” FunFair – Coner of East Indean Dock Rd, Crisp St Popler.” (sic)
All Roots Fresh Daily, Spitalfields 1966 - “They used anything they could get hold of to board it up.”
Laurel Tree, Brick Lane 1960s - “It’s an Asian barber now.”
Men, Wapping 1964 - “You expect to see Sherlock Holmes appear.”
Whites Stores, Spitalfields 1967 - “Nice piece of lettering. They’ve done it themselves and, whether you like it or not, it’s got character.”
Yau Lee Laundry, E7 1968 - “We used to go to Limehouse when it was Chinatown.”
Grocer’s Window, Spitalfields 1964.
Photographs copyright © John Claridge
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