Tony Bock’s East End
At The Royal Oak, Bethnal Green
These pictures are a selection from those taken in the five years between 1973 and 1978, when Tony Bock lived in the East End working as a photographer for the East London Advertiser. “Britain in the nineteen seventies never seemed comfortable with itself,” Tony admitted to me, “caught between the post-war years that hung on too long and the late twentieth century that seemed late in arriving.”
Although he was brought up in Canada where his parents emigrated in 1952, Tony was born in Paddington and, after being thrown out of photography school in Toronto in 1972, he decided to return to his country of birth and the East End where his mother’s family came from. “My grandfather was a docker his entire working life, working at Hay’s Wharf near London Bridge in the nineteen twenties then moving on to ‘The Royals’ (as the Royal Docks were known) until he retired.” he explained.
Yet Tony’s return was destined to be short-lived and there is an ambivalence which runs through these eloquent photographs. While he had a personal connection to the world that he portrayed, equally Tony was a stranger to it. In many of these pictures a dramatic tension exists between the empathy of the photographer and an underlying sense of dislocation – though it was not simply the dislocation of an outsider, but that of a world undergoing transition and fragmentation. In these photographs, Tony explored his relationship to the culture of his own origin, yet he discovered it was a troubled society in which he could never feel at home.
“I lived in Wapping for several years and met Lyn, my wife-to-be, who was also a journalist at the East London Advertiser.” Tony recalled, “But in 1978, I was offered work at The Toronto Star, the largest paper in Canada. The racism and pollution in the East End were getting me down and when Maggie Thatcher was elected – well – that was enough to send me back home.”
Tony’s spell at photography school granted him an awareness of the work of the great international photographers of the twentieth century and this knowledge informed the confident aesthetic of his East End pictures, with their strong compositions and deftly-balanced multiple points of focus within a single frame. For Tony Bock, his sojourn in the East End delivered the opportunity he needed to take a clear-eyed look at his roots before returning to pursue a career as a photojournalist in Toronto. Today, these pictures from the mid-seventies offer us an invaluable personal vision of a not-so-distant world that is rapidly fading from memory.
“I worked at The Star for over thirty years, it was a great place to be a photojournalist. It was a paper that cared about photography, had the budget to undertake long term projects, sent staff around the world, and dealt with social issues.” he told me, “Oddly, my life in East London followed the route my mother’s family had taken years earlier.”
Saturday night out, Dagenham
Children playing in Poplar
Clown at Stratford Broadway
At J.Kelly, Pie & Mash, Bethnal Green
At The White Swan, Poplar
At the E1 Festival, Stepney
Train departing Liverpool St Station
In Watney Market
Corner Shop, Sidney St
Boy with a gun and his sister, Pearl St, Wapping
Demolition at Tiller Rd, Isle of Dogs
Commercial Docks, Rotherhithe
No remuneration to Place-keepers.
Photographs copyright © Tony Bock