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Zed Nelson’s Portrait Of Hackney

April 27, 2014
by the gentle author

Today we preview the third in Hoxton Minipress‘ Photo Stories Zed Nelson’s Portrait Of Hackney – a personal vision of  the contradictions and cultural clashes in his home borough.


I was born in Uganda, East Africa, but from the age of three Hackney has been my home.

I went to a forward-thinking experimental primary school in East London that encouraged art and independent thought, until my parents, as seventies hippies, plucked me out of school and took me and my sister on a one-year road trip to India, travelling overland from Britain in a diesel truck.

When we returned, I had the misfortune of ending up at an extremely rough comprehensive school. I found out years later it had the worst academic record of any school in the capital and in subsequent years was closed down. It was set on a concrete landscape with not a blade of grass in sight. The school was encircled by housing estates and chain-link fences. It was not a place of learning, but more of survival.

Over the next few years I pierced my ears, shaved my head into a mohican, got a tattoo, was arrested for smoking dope, took acid in Abney Park Cemetery and buzzed around the streets in a motorbike gang. We were hardly Hells Angels though, we were so young we were restricted to 100cc motorcycles with L-plates. Most of the time it was harmless fun, but it turned dark. One friend became addicted to heroin and was murdered in a squat, another was badly injured in a motorbike accident, and another sent to jail for GBH after a fight got out of hand. Basically, I was the product of a bad inner city education, with the kind of friends that go with it.

At the age of eighteen, photography gave me a passport back to civilization, and the minute I started college I remembered there was so much more to do. I have since travelled widely through my photographic work, but remained living in Hackney and am watching with fascination as the area goes through a metamorphosis.

There’s a recurring motif in these images of Hackney, of cracked pavements and walls, melting tarmac, and weeds and roots bursting through concrete. It is as if nature is trying to reclaim the land, and Hackney – under-funded, neglected and poorly maintained – is constantly being sucked back into the earth. It amuses me to see this, as I find other, wealthier areas where nature has been conquered depressing and disconcerting – covered over in tarmac, cemented and de-weeded.

Zed Nelson 2014

Click here to buy ZED NELSON’S PORTRAIT OF HACKNEY direct from Hoxton Minipress

Photographs copyright © Zed Nelson

You may also like to take a look at these other Hoxton Minipress titles

Joseph Markovitch, I’ve Lived In East London For Eighty-Six & A Half Years

Fifty People of East London by Adam Dant

Madeleine Waller’s East London Swimmers

3 Responses leave one →
  1. April 27, 2014

    Life is L ife…!

    Love & Peace

  2. Ellen in NEW England permalink
    April 27, 2014

    Ah, Zed! These are such stunning photographs! Such contrasts – kissing among the algae, off-the-shoulder Chanel t-shirt, the knit-bombed tree… The earth belongs to the plants, and they will reclaim it from us whenever we turn our backs for just a moment! (If there is some water to go with the dust and fallen leaves to create a little compost for a stray seed to live in).

  3. April 27, 2014

    Looking at the photo of the berries all over the road, I’d say that the tree was visited by either Waxwings or Fieldfares….someone else might notice the cars, or the shopfronts, or the fashions. I love the way that each of us notice different things, according to our interests and passions

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