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A Book Of John Claridge’s EAST END

February 21, 2016
by the gentle author

Over the next few days, we shall be featuring John Claridge’s East End photography from the sixties

Perhaps no-one took more photographs in the East End in the sixties than John Claridge? The outcome was a insider’s portrait of an entire society, observed with affection and candour by a distinctive photographic talent.

Click here to order a copy of EAST END by John Claridge for £25

The window on the top right of this photograph was John Claridge’s former bedroom when he took this astonishing portrait of his neighbours in Plaistow – Mr & Mrs Jones – in 1968, on a visit home in his early twenties.

Once, at the age of eight, John saw a plastic camera at a fair on Wanstead Flats and knew he had to have it. And thus, in that intuitive moment of recognition, his lifelong passion for photography was born. Saving up money from his paper round in the London Docks, John bought an Ilford Sport and recorded the world that he knew, capturing the plangent images you see here with a breathtaking clarity of vision. “Photography was a natural language,” he assured me, when I asked him about taking these pictures, “This was my life.”

“My father was a docker – everyone worked in the docks, did a bit of boxing or they were villains. My dad went to sea when he was thirteen, he did bare-knuckle boxing, he knew how to rig a ship from top to bottom, and he sold booze in the states during prohibition. I used to get up at five in the morning to talk to him before he went to work and he told me stories, that was my education. People say life was hard in the East End, but I found the living was easy and I loved it.”

With admirable self-assurance, John left school at fifteen and informed West Ham Labour Exchange of his chosen career. They sent him up to the McCann-Erickson advertising agency in the West End where he immediately acquired employment in the photographic department. Then, at seventeen years old, John bravely travelled from Plaistow to Hampstead to knock on the door of Bill Brandt to present one of his prints, and the legendary photographer invited him in, recognising his precocious talent and offering encouragement to the young man.

“I used to meet my mum after work in the Roman Rd where she was a machinist, and you couldn’t see the next street in the fog,” John recalled, when I enquired about the distinctive quality of light in these atmospheric images. At the age of nineteen, John left the East End for good and at the same time opened his first studio near St Paul’s Cathedral. It was the precursor an heroic career in photography which has seen John working at the top of his profession for decades, yet he still carries a deep affection for these eloquent haunting pictures that set him on his way. “My East End’s gone, it doesn’t exist anymore,” he admitted to me frankly with unsentimental discernment, “These are pictures I could never do again, I don’t have that naivety and innocence anymore, but seeing them now is like looking at an old friend.”

Collecting firewood, 1960

1961

1963

1966

1972

1960

Ex-boxer, 1962

1974

1962

1961

Mass X-Ray, 1966

1962

1960

Flower Seller, 1959

1962

Shoe Rebuilders, 1965

London fog, 1959

Going to work, 1959

London Docks, 1964

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

Click here to order a copy of John Claridge’s EAST END for £25

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Chris F permalink
    February 21, 2016

    London Docks 1964 looks like an impressionist painting… However, when you look at these photos of an era not that distant in memory… you do have to wonder why anyone from a distant continent would imagine that our streets were (or are) paved with gold….

  2. Robert permalink
    February 21, 2016

    Have to agree about the cranes but I can see why people from a distant continent think the streets are paved with gold. As if you are fleeing a war torn country, the ruins of London would still look alluring.

  3. February 21, 2016

    Impressive Photographs from ancient Life …

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  4. February 21, 2016

    I am so grateful that people like John took time to record these people and places.

  5. February 21, 2016

    These photographs make me feel so sad. I have mentioned before that my mother’s family came from the East End, but to Australia (only a couple of them) in the late 1800′s and my dad’s family came here from Kent in 1839. Even though Adelaide had issues at first, as a brand new colony, in the 1960′s I was already 8 years old, and I remember the beach and the sunshine, and hot days, green trees and neat clean streets. It is gut wrenching to see how people still lived there, even in the 1960′s. I know how crowded and difficult it was from researching the 1800 and 1900′s but didn’t realise it was still like this. I visited the East End briefly in 2008 and saw old buildings combined with new buildings and people from many cultures, and it is a place that fascinates me. I guess I am not used to a country and city that is so crowded. Their faces seem so sad, their lives must have been so hard. But the photographs are beautiful in their own evocative way.

  6. Malcolm permalink
    February 21, 2016

    Wonderful photographs. I will certainly buy the book.
    There is an almost mythical quality in these images of a time and place that may only have existed in distant memories. I am a born and bred east ender and about the same vintage as John Claridge, but my visual memory is different. There were terrible fogs, this is true but the docks, which I lived among, were places I found exciting and colourful. The great ships coming up the Thames, escorted by terrier-like tugs; the ballet of cranes lifting loading and unloading, their skeletal jibs dipping and rising like prehistoric creatures feeding on a carcass; the tumult of men on the docks unloading cargoes from all around the world: the colours were vibrant and never looked grey to me.
    The streets were never dirty, neither were the houses. The people were always friendly – except Alf, the butcher, who was always shouting at his son Geoff. I used to stand and watch Alf when he hung a pig in the doorway of his shop and split it down the middle with a great big cleaver. That was entertainment! I can still smell the sawdust and meat of his shop.
    The late 60′s saw the demolition of the terraced houses and the building of grim estates of flats and maisonettes. The people I knew were moved out and strangers moved in, mostly from Islington and the surrounding areas. North Londoners were a different species to me and I didn’t understand them at all. Strange, grubby, unruly boys who seemed to have no respect for anything at all and who took great delight in smashing everything around them. They were hard and were forever starting fights.
    The east end I knew didn’t become a place of decay and despair until the 70′s by which time the docks were all but finished, and when the docks died, the community, which was driven by the industry and jobs, died too.
    John Claridge’s photographs are wonderful images that deserve to be seen.
    You walk a certain walk.

  7. Nick permalink
    February 21, 2016

    These pictures of long lost communities are very thought provoking.
    It is sometimes worth remembering that, whilst much is made of the evils of big business and big money redeveloping commercial properties, it was the socialist councils that cleared these areas and rehoused people in concrete blocks

  8. jeannette permalink
    February 21, 2016

    just finished *our mutual friend*, dickens last, most magnificent, novel. if he had had a photographer, this would be the one. old man river just keeps rolling along.

  9. February 22, 2016

    Do so love the Flower Seller…

  10. Graham Cornthwaite permalink
    February 22, 2016

    An absolute joy to finally get to see some of this work. I have known for some time of it’s coming, and it is no surprise how wonderful it is.
    Such an important document up there with the work of Mr Frank, Mr Brandt and Mr Eugene-Smith.
    John is the original cockney sparra’ with the eye of an eagle.
    As an art director in the late 70′s I worked with him in India for the Indian tourist board, he was one of very first people who encouraged me to take my own humble photographs.
    I remember his words wisdom……….
    ” Just F8**ing do it ” East End Zen.
    So I did, I quit Art Directing, bought my first Leica and moved to Italy for ten years.
    Thank you John. Love you, Love your work, God Bless you.

  11. Peter Holford permalink
    February 22, 2016

    Extraordinary. I struggle to equate what I see in these photos with going to visit my Nan in the East End through the 1960s. As a boy I obviously didn’t see the poverty. My home area of Putney was very different. I think it just shows how much young people accept the surroundings and are uncritical – but then it was Dad’s and Nan’s home.

  12. Pete Denton permalink
    May 29, 2016

    Hi

    Look forward to receiving John’s new book.

    Please say hi to him from me.I’m the yorkshire art director who went all over Ireland with him on a shoot in the ’80′s.Great fun,great shots.
    Keep smudging John! Daft not to.Regards Pete

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