Tony Hall, Photographer
Bonner St, Bethnal Green
Tony Hall (1936-2008) would not have described himself as a photographer – his life’s work was that of a graphic designer, political cartoonist and illustrator. Yet on the basis of the legacy of around a thousand photographs that he took – of which I publish a first selection of East End images today – he was unquestionably a photographer, blessed with a natural empathy for his subjects and possessing a bold aesthetic sensibility too.
Recently Tony’s wife Libby Hall, known as a collector of dog photography, has revisited her husband’s photographs before giving them to the Bishopsgate Institute where they will be held in the archive permanently. “It was an extraordinary experience because there were many that I had never seen before and I wanted to ask him about them.” Libby confessed to me, “I noticed Tony reflected in the glass of J.Barker, the butcher’s shop, and then to my surprise I saw myself standing next to him.”
“I was often with him but, from the mid-sixties to the early seventies, he worked shifts and wandered around taking photographs on weekday afternoons.” she reflected, “He loved roaming in the East End and photographing it.”
Born in Ealing, Tony Hall studied painting at the Royal College of Art under Ruskin Spear. But although he quickly acquired a reputation as a talented portrait painter, he chose to reject the medium, deciding that he did not want to create pictures which could only be afforded by the wealthy, turning his abilities instead towards graphic works that could be mass-produced for a wider audience.
Originally from New York, Libby met Tony when she went to work at a printers in Cowcross St, Clerkenwell, where he was employed as a graphic artist. “The boss was member of the Communist Party yet he resented it when we tried to start a union and he was always running out of money to pay our wages, giving us ‘subs’ bit by bit.” she recalled with fond indignation, “I was supposed to manage the office and type things, but the place was such a mess that the typewriter was on top of a filing cabinet and they expected me to type standing up. There were twelve of us working there and we did mail order catalogues. Tony and the others used to compete to see who could get the most appalling designs into the catalogues.”
“Then Tony went to work for the Evening News as a newspaper artist on Fleet St and I joined the Morning Star as a press photographer.” Libby continued,” I remember he refused to draw a graphic of a black man as a mugger and, when the High Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan came to London, Tony draw a little ice cream badge onto his uniform on the photograph and it was published!” After the Evening News, Tony worked at The Sun until the move to Wapping, using this opportunity of short shifts to develop his career as a graphic artist by drawing weekly cartoons for the Labour Herald.
This was the moment when Tony also had the time to pursue his photography, recording an affectionate chronicle of the daily life of the East End where he lived from 1960 until the end of his life – first in Barbauld Rd, Stoke Newington, then in Nevill Rd above a butchers shop, before making a home with Libby in 1967 at Ickburgh Rd, Clapton. “It is the England I first loved …” Libby confided, surveying Tony’s pictures that record his tender personal vision for perpetuity,“… the smell of tobacco, wet tweed and coal fires.”
“He’d say to me sometimes, ‘I must do something with those photographs,’” Libby told me, which makes it a special delight to publish Tony Hall’s pictures today for the first time.
Click this picture to enlarge and see the reflection of Tony & Libby Hall in the window of J. Barker.
Children with their bonfire for Guy Fawkes
In the Hackney Rd
“I love the way these women are looking at Tony in this picture, they’re looking at him with such trust – it’s the way he’s made them feel. He would have been in his early thirties then.”
On the Regent’s Canal near Grove Rd
On Globe Rd
In Old Montague St
In Old Montague St
In Club Row Market
On the Roman Rd
In Ridley Rd Market
In Ridley Rd Market
In Artillery Lane, Spitalfields
Photographs copyright © Libby Hall
Images Courtesy of the Tony Hall Archive at the Bishopsgate Institute
Libby Hall & I would be delighted if any readers can assist in identifying the locations and subjects of Tony Hall’s photographs.
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