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Markéta Luskačová At Tate Britain

November 14, 2018
by the gentle author

Favourite photographer Markéta Luskačová is currently exhibiting her pictures at Tate Britain until May 12th 2019, including a fine selection of her photographs of Brick Lane. I can reveal that I am collaborating with Markéta to compile a monograph of her superlative photography of London since 1976, which I hope to publish towards the end of next year.

Two women with a cigarette, Cheshire St 1977.

When photographer Markéta Luskačová came from Prague in the mid-seventies, it became her great delight to visit the markets in London since they were forbidden under Communist rule in her own country. It was Brick Lane market in particular that took Markéta’s fancy, both as a subject for photography and a source of cheap produce. In fact, such was the enduring nature of her fascination and need, Markéta continued coming to Spitalfields to take photographs and get her weekly supply of fruit and vegetables for over thirty years.

As a young photographer in Czechoslovakia, Markéta went out to visit remote villages which were so poor that the collectivisation imposed elsewhere by the Communists was not viable, and she recorded a way of life barely changed for centuries in breathtakingly beautiful pictures, first exhibited in Prague in 1971 and later shown at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1983. By chance, Markéta’s photographs were seen in Prague by Colin Osman, editor of Creative Camera, who was on a visit from London to attend the opera and he published them in his magazine, drawing international recognition for the quality of her vision.

In London, Markéta showed her work to Norman Hall, the renowned picture editor of The Times  but when she told him she wanted to photograph markets, he dismissed it as “a subject for beginners” yet she set out undiscouraged.

“I went to Brick Lane and I never left. I fell in love with it.” she admitted to me, “Most of all, I photograph things I like and I was lucky enough that somebody saw my work and supported my photography for a little while.”

A year later, Markéta took her photographs of Brick Lane to Norman Hall and, looking at them, he declared, “This may be a subject for a beginner, but it is not a beginner that took these photographs.”

“I was poor,” recalled Markéta, “so I needed to do my shopping there as it was the cheapest place to buy things. I could identify with the people in Brick Lane because they were immigrants and they were in need of cheap goods. Once I had done my shopping, I would leave my bag with a stallholder while I took my photographs.”

In 1991, Markéta had a one woman show at the Whitechapel Gallery of her photographs of Spitalfields, establishing her reputation as a major photographic talent in this country. Those pictures – of which a selection are published here today – were the result of a two-year residency in which she selected from and printed her pictures taken between 1975 and 1990. Yet it is less widely known that these represent only a portion of those Markéta has taken in Brick Lane as result of her long-term relationship with the market which now extends over thirty years.

In particular, Markéta recorded the last days of the ancient market in birds and animals that existed in Sclater St and Club Row until it was closed down in 1990 as a result of protests by animal rights activists. Markéta shared a natural sympathy with the dealers, observing their affection for their charges, unlike the hard-line protestors, one of whom pushed her in front of a car.

Famously, Markéta photographed the sale of a lion cub in Brick Lane. She remembers that it was first offered at £150 and then the price diminished to £100 and finally £75, over successive weeks, as the cub grew and became less cuddly and more threatening. Eventually, the seller came back one Sunday without the lion but clasping a tray of watches that he had swapped the creature for. In Brick Lane, Markéta found her primary subject as a photographer, offering an entire society in realistic detail and a mythological universe of infinite variety.

“I don’t go to Brick Lane regularly anymore, sometimes six months passes between one visit and another” Markéta confided to me,“I photographed what I saw there and what I thought it was good to record, be it a face or a smile, an animal or a shoe. I believe in the evidential quality of photography, and I know that unless things are done in a visually interesting way they are not remembered.”

A woman with a gentle manner and a piercing gaze, Markéta Luskačová’s magnificent photographs reflect her own personality. They are simultaneously generous in their humanity yet unsentimental in revealing the nature of people. More than twenty years after her last show in the East End it is my delight to show a selection of her Brick Lane pictures here today.

Lion cub and dog, Club Row Market 1977.

Street musician, Cheshire St 1977.

Man selling trousers, Petticoat Lane 1974.

Woman in front of a poster, Bethnal Green Rd 1990.

Woman in the Knave of Clubs, Bethnal Green Rd 1976.

Man with a clock, off Cheshire St 1989.

Street musician, Cheshire St 1979.

Man with kitten, 1977.

Girls from Canon Barnett Primary School in the train on their way back from the seaside, 1988.

Woman and child, Sclater St 1976.

Old man and children with donkey, Sclater St 1980.

Photographs copyright © Markéta Luskačová

You may also like to take a look at

Markéta Luskačová’s Street Musicians

12 Responses leave one →
  1. November 14, 2018

    Lovely work. A lost world beautifully observed.

  2. November 14, 2018

    Thank you Marketa for an early morning trip down both memory and Brick Lane.

  3. Jeanette permalink
    November 14, 2018

    Many thanks for bringing this to our attention. Great pictures, just as I then remember it. Sensitive photography will definitely pay a visit to the show.

  4. November 14, 2018

    These photographs are truly wonderful – so unsentimentally sentimental…
    Thank you so much for sharing them today.
    Can’t wait for your book! A

  5. Rehan permalink
    November 14, 2018

    Wonderful.

  6. November 14, 2018

    So pleased you are going to publish the work of Markéta Luskačová. Her work is truly amazing. Is it possible to order a copy now?

  7. November 14, 2018

    As a kid (11-12 years old ) I worked on my uncle Charlie’s stall at the top end of Brick Lane ( opposite where the top Beigal shop is now and outside an Italian Ice Cream place ) selling cosmetics in the late 1960′s. My dad and another uncle used to ‘pitch out’ selling old stuff in Cheshire Street in the early 1960′s, starting at 4am and being ‘moved along’ by 6am by the market inspectors. I remember buying my first record by Sounds Incorporated in Cheshire Street, I also remember having the best jam doughnuts in the world from a bakers nearby. Loved and hated the work, the area and the weather…but mainly enjoyed !!..I write fondly in my book about my time there ‘…And then the Prime Minister hit me…’…the photographs by
    Markéta Luskačová are truly evocative of that time, even though made a few years later…these are the pictures I should have made….but didn’t !!

  8. Susan Romer permalink
    November 14, 2018

    Wow!
    Memories!
    I bought that enamel kettle, or one just like it, many years ago!
    Brick Lane was where we all went to after a Saturday night party. We’d go to Pellicci’s and hit the market around six am!
    Or if one was indolent then you’d get up around lunchtime and find amazing things people had left behind!
    We furnished our squats with stuff from Brick Label!
    Obviously the curries were and still are heavenly!
    And you could brush up your anti racism vocabulary arguing with the National Front!

  9. November 14, 2018

    Superb photographs, so keenly observed by the marvellous Marketa. I shall visit her exhibit at Tate Britain – and look forward to her new book next year.

  10. Mary permalink
    November 14, 2018

    So wonderful – thank you for sharing

  11. John Curno permalink
    November 14, 2018

    Oh , my word! I didn’t live there but my family came from there and I travelled around it in the 1960/70′s. It’s exactly how I remember it. Trying to turn something that may be of use to someone, into a couple of bob. These black and white pictures are unforgiving in their portrayal of the realities of life in that place.
    The drab clothes, grey skies, poverty and the almost palpable feeling that ‘this is life for us and we know nothing better’. No colour to their lives, no sense of fun or future
    . Perhaps this is a modern day version of Horace Warner. Plus ca change.

  12. Sue permalink
    November 14, 2018

    Amazing photos. They look as if they could have been taken much longer ago than 30-40 years. Timeless indeed.

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