A Book Of John Claridge’s EAST END
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.
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
Mass X-Ray, 1966
Flower Seller, 1959
Shoe Rebuilders, 1965
London fog, 1959
Going to work, 1959
London Docks, 1964
Photographs copyright © John Claridge