The Apotheosis Of Phil Maxwell
On Thursday night at six o’clock, crowds poured in to the Rich Mix Centre to celebrate the work of Phil Maxwell and his extraordinary thirty years of photographing the East End, upon publication day of his new book.
Beginning in 1981, Brick Lane records the passing away of one world and the arrival of another in the span of a generation. Looking at Phil’s early pictures, you feel are witnessing the last lingering glimmer of the nineteenth century – the last shreds of Dickens’ London – yet, by the end, it is unquestionably the present day and our own time. Repeatedly this week, I have found myself leafing back and forth through the three hundred pages of ‘Brick Lane’ to seek a perspective upon the changes we have seen. Each time, I discover new details and I know I shall keep returning to Phil’s book for years to come.
Many hundreds came to carry off copies and meet the man responsible for this epic record of turbulent social change upon one street. Some suggested that Phil’s book documents how Brick Lane has been ruined, while others commented that it shows the place is in better repair these days and people on the street look healthier and happier – that the poverty apparent in the earlier photographs has gone. But the fascination and success of Phil Maxwell’s vision is that it defies any simple interpretation and, as guests stood around leafing through pages and studying the book, a consensus arose that these photographs comprise the historic record of our times.
Thanks to the generosity of Truman’s Beer, everyone was welcomed with a glass of ale and the collective excitement of this lively gathering, with many of those featured in the photographs present, conjured a strong community atmosphere – as captured in these pictures by Contributing Photographer Simon Mooney.
Phil Maxwell signed books for two hours without respite as the line of those awaiting his autograph grew no shorter, until eight o’clock when the crowd fell silent as Lola Perrin took to the stage for a performance at the piano accompanying film sequences of Phil’s photographs edited by Hazuan Hashim. Each one revealed alternative versions of the same shot, permitting us to see through Phil’s eyes as he sought the definitive image. We stood in rapture to see our familiar streets inhabited by the shades of the past and then watched as they faded like memories.
The culmination of the evening came at the end when Phil Maxwell appeared on stage for a short curtain call with his partner Hazuan Hashim and Lola Perrin the musician. A roar of thunderous applause and loud cheers filled the space from the floor to the balcony. It was a clamour of delight at a one man’s remarkable lifetime of achievement in photography. It was the apotheosis of Phil Maxwell.
Phil Maxwell, Lola Perrin and Hazuan Hashim take a bow
Photographs copyright © Simon Mooney
Posters can be obtained free from Bishopsgate Library, Brick Lane Bookshop, Broadway Bookshop, Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen, The Golden Heart, Rough Trade, SCP, Labour & Wait, Leila’s Shop, Newham Bookshop & Townhouse. Each outlet has 50 posters to give away.