John Claridge’s Darker Side
Photographer John Claridge sent me this set of pictures entitled “East London, A Darker Side And Objects of Affection,” yet when I asked him which of the images referred to darkness and which to veneration, he became evasive. Justly celebrated for his subtle appreciation of tonal contrast in photography, John sees darkness and light as inextricable from each other in life too.
For John, these images are tokens of the East End that he knew and of the East End that made him. They are plates from an unwritten autobiography. When, at fifteen years old, John went up west to work in advertising at McCann Erickson, the college graduates would not speak to him at first, dismissing him as being from the “wrong side of the tracks.” But John refused to apologise for his origins and quickly discovered that he was accepted by creative figures at the agency such as the designer Robert Brownjohn who recognised his nascent talent.
Many of the objects in these pictures are still in John’s possession today, carried all these years as talismans of his youthful emotional universe in the fifties and sixties. Yet they also speak of the violence of that society, a violence which John witnessed and knew personally, but does not sentimentalise. “It’s a world I flirted with, but film delivered me to another life,” John admitted, choosing his words carefully and looking back with a clear-eyed gaze. It was his and our good fortune that – out of the variety of implements portrayed here – for John the camera proved to be the most eloquent means of self-expression.
The Beginning -”My first serious camera when I was fifteen, bought by hire purchase. I still have it, but it’s resting now.”
Once Upon a Time in the East End - “A Magnum twelve gauge shotgun laid upon the grill in an East End St.”
Eldorado & The Dark Corner - “My first car was a V8 Ford Pilot, but an American car was the most desirable and I photographed a friend’s Eldorado Cadillac on a street off the Highway.”
Zip Gun - “At school, we used to get hold of toy guns and use them to create real guns. You use small ball bearings, pack it with gunpowder and it fires. It was what we did.”
The Starter - “I found a razor in the street once. There had been a fight and it was left behind. I remember seeing Teddy Boys in the market buying razors with mother of pearl handles, and they’d put them in their top pocket to see which matched their clothes best. Their opening line was, ‘Do you want to start something?’”
This is Not a Negative - “I used to carry a flick knife, it wasn’t a negative characteristic, it was my life. You learnt to survive.”
How Things Grow
The Unknown Boxer - “My father was a bare-knuckle fighter but he was also the gentlest man you could imagine.”
The Hammers - “The symbol for West Ham , the hammers refer to ship building. I used to compete in athletics for West Ham and I still have my badge.”
Rolling Thunder -”I crashed my bike and got smashed up really badly. I broke an arm, a leg, cracked three vertebrae, broke eight ribs, one rib punctured a lung and I was in a coma for a week. But when I got out of hospital, my mates put me on a bike and made me take the same bends again. It was the biggest adrenalin rush of my life. Motorbiking was an important part of growing up, and I still ride a Ducati 916 and a Harley.”
Stewed or Jellied - “Obviously, I adore eels, stewed or jellied. We’d go on holiday to Southend and eat fresh seafood, so I thought I’d send this postcard back to everyone.”
This is NOT the wrong side - “When I started at McCann Erickson at fifteen, the college graduates wouldn’t speak to me – I was told I was from the wrong side of the tracks.”
Photographs copyright © John Claridge
You may like to read these other stories of the darker side of the East End
or take a look at these other pictures by John Claridge