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Clive Murphy, Snapper

February 5, 2013
by the gentle author

Pauline, Animal Lover, 77 Brick Lane, 16 July 1988

When it comes to photography, Clive Murphy – the novelist, oral historian and writer of ribald rhymes – describes himself as a snapper. Yet although he uses the term to indicate that his taking pictures is merely a casual preoccupation, I prefer to interpret Clive’s appellation as meaning “a snapper up of unconsidered trifles” - one who cherishes what others disregard.

“I carried it around in my shoulder bag and if something interested me, I would pull out my camera and snap it,” Clive informed me plainly, “I am a snapper because I work instinctively and I rely entirely upon my eye for the picture.”

In thousands of snapshots, every one labelled on the reverse in his spidery handwriting and organised into many shelves of numbered volumes, Clive has been chronicling the changing life of Spitalfields, of those around him and of those he knew, since he came to live above the Aladin Restaurant in 1973. These pictures are not those of a documentary photographer on assignment but the intimate snaps of a member of the community, and it is this personal quality which makes them so compelling and immediate, drawing the viewer into Clive’s particular vivid universe on Brick Lane.

Last week, we pulled out a few albums and leafed through the pages together, selecting a few snaps to show you, and Clive told me some of the stories that go along with them.

Winos, Brick Lane, May 1988

Komor Uddin, Taj Stores, 7 December 1990

Columbia Rd Market, 13 November 1988

Jasinghe Ranamukadewasa Fernando (known as Vijay Singh), Holy Man with acolyte, Brick Lane, March 1988 - “Many people in Brick Lane thought he was the new Messiah and the press came down in droves. He was regarded as a very holy man, he held court in the Nazrul Restaurant and people took his potions and remedies. When he died, I joined the crowd to see his body at the Co-op Funeral Parlour in Chrisp St.”

Clive Murphy’s cat Pushkin, 132 Brick Lane, July 1988 - “Pushkin followed me down Brick Lane from Fournier St one night and, when I opened my hall door, he came in with me. So he adopted me, when he was only a kitten and could hardly jump up a step. And I had him for twenty years.”

Neighbour’s doves hoping to be fed, 16 March 1991 - “The Nazrul Restaurant used to keep doves and, when they disappeared, Pushkin was blamed but I assure you he had nothing to do with it.”

Kyriacos Kleovoulou, Barber, Puma Court, 23 February 1990 - “I’ve had a few haircuts there in the past.”

Waiter, Nazrul Restaurant, Brick Lane, 29 May 1988

Harry Fishman, 97 Brick Lane, 19 September 1987 - “He was a godsend to everybody because he cashed any cheque on the spot. I think he was used to being robbed, so he wanted to get rid of the cash. Harry Fishman was the most-loved man on Brick Lane in the seventies, his shop was always full of people wanting to be around him, and I often delivered papers to The Golden Heart for him.”

Harry Fishman’s shop, corner of Quaker St, 19 September 1987

Window Cleaning, Woodseer St, March 1988 - “This man used to run an orchestra and, at all dances and Bengali events, they would play.”

Sunday use of Weinbergs (sold), November 1987 - “It was a printers and when it closed it became a fruit stall. Mr Weinberg was a very jolly fat man, slightly balding, who ordered his staff about. He would say things like, ‘Left, right, left, right, do it properly!’ I dined at his house and I didn’t like the cover of my first novel, so I asked him to redesign it for me. He had a nephew who had never been with a woman and he asked me to find him an escort agency. We all dined in a restaurant behind the Astoria Theatre in the Charing Cross Rd, and then I let them use my front room. But after an hour she came out and said, ‘It’s no use, I give up!’ but we still had to pay, and his nephew never became a man.”

Christ Church Night Tea Stall, October 1987 - “I always went out as the last thing I did before I went to bed, to have a snack.”

Clive’s landlord, Toimus Ali, at The Aladin Restaurant, 6 March 1991 - “He was very taciturn.”

Fournier St, 7 February 1991 - “I used to come here and have lunch with all the taxi-drivers who loved it so much.”

Retired street cleaner, Brick Lane, March 1988

Tramp, Brick Lane, 29 May 1988

Pushkin unwell, Jan 4 1991 - “I was told it would be quite alright to feed my cat on frozen whitebait, but I didn’t thaw it properly and it killed my Pushkin.”

Harry Fishman’s shop after closure, 97 Brick Lane, 27 September 1987

Clive at his desk, 132 Brick Lane, 31 December 1989

Photographs courtesy of the Clive Murphy Archive at the Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to read my other stories about Clive Murphy

Clive Murphy, Writer

A Walk With Clive Murphy

At Clive Murphy’s Flat

Clive Murphy, Phillumenist

Clive Murphy’s oral histories are available from Labour and Wait

and his ribald rhymes are available from Rough Trade

6 Responses leave one →
  1. February 5, 2013

    I recognise (and have photographed) quite a few of the characters in Clive’s lovely photographs. They really capture the spirit of the 1980′s in and around Brick Lane.

  2. February 5, 2013

    Great photos – oh, ok snapshots. They tell a real story of a community at work.

  3. February 5, 2013

    Really Great collection of photos…some of the nicest I’ve seen of the area…thanks again for publishing this

  4. Libby Hall permalink
    February 5, 2013

    More lovely all-embracing images added to the riches of Spitalfields Life. How lucky Bishopsgate Institute is to have this archive, and how fine that the Gentle Author is able to show them to us.

    …Twenty-years-old is a grand old age for a cat. No cat could live to be twenty without having had the most excellent care. Don’t you think perhaps Pushkin’s time to die had come, and the whitebait was only most marginally connected to his death? Oh it is so easy to go over and over in one’s head what one should, or should not, have done with the creatures we nurture. I think Pushkin was a very wise little kitten when he chose Clive Murphy to follow home.

    …The photograph of Pauline, animal lover, is like the one of me and Pip, taken by the Gentle Author. Same ‘breed’ of dog, same aged old woman. I like it that she and I are together, with everyone else – forever –in Spitalfields Life.

  5. Tommy F permalink
    February 5, 2013

    just beutiful, thank you G.A.

  6. Ros permalink
    February 5, 2013

    Clive these are lovely, evocative and poignant, and definitely worthy of adding to the rich and growing record of life in Spitalfields, as Libby Hall says. We are indeed lucky to have it. I also enjoyed the pictures of your matchbox labels ( and you as a teenager), and ‘phillumenist’ came in very handy as a quiz answer a few days later. Thank you for sharing the pictures, and thanks to the gentle author for publishing them.

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