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Some East End Portraits by John Claridge

August 20, 2012
by the gentle author

Boy, E7 1961 – “He was the son of  a friend of my father’s – Peter, an electrician who worked down the docks. To find out if anything was live, he’d stick his finger in the socket!”

Eaten up by the consumption of chocolate, this lad is entirely unaware of the close proximity of photographer John Claridge‘s lens. And, judging from the enthusiasm with which he is sticking the chocolate in his mouth, it looks like he took after his father when it came to poking fingers into holes.

Published for the first time, these vibrant photographs reveal the range of John’s approaches to portraiture. “Most of the time I ask,” he admitted to me, “and sometimes people ask me to take their pictures, but at other times you just see something and grab it. I’ve no single way of doing it.”

“I talk to them and it is through talking that you can open a door,” he continued, ” if you’ve known someone for a while, it is very different from if they only have ten minutes to give me their soul.  So I never set people up to look foolish, I treat them with dignity because I need to win their trust.”

Offering a variety of moods and contrasted energies, these portraits share a common humanity and tenderness for their subjects. In particular, John’s self-portrait fascinates me. He says he took it in a semi-derelict toilet “for the hell of it,” but, in retrospect, it is emblematic of his extraordinary project – he was a photographer in a world that was spiralling down.

The body of work from which these photos have been selected – of which I have published hundreds in weekly instalments over the last few months – is believed to be the largest collection of images by any single photographer covering this period in the East End. In their quality, their number, and their range, they will come to represent the eye of history – but it makes them especially interesting that they were taken by an insider. When he took these photographs, John Claridge was an Eastender looking at the East End. John was taking portraits of his own people.

Clocking Off, Wapping 1968 – “He was a neighbour and I arranged to meet him down at the warehouse after work.”

Boxer, E16 1969 – “A chap putting on his wraps at Terry Lawless’ gym in Canning Town. I walked in and I was talking to the guys – and I just took the picture.”

Man at Booth House Salvation Army, Whitechapel 1982 – “I printed this picture for the first time the other day. They guy is somewhere else, but I didn’t notice until this week the man with the camera taking the picture on the television.”

Children at the Salvation Army Care Centre,  Whitechapel 1970s – “Some children were permanently in care and others were just there for the day. I can’t tell which these were. People only came in these places if there was a problem, if their dad was in the nick or their mum couldn’t take care of them.”

Worker at the Bell Foundry,  Whitechapel 1982 – “You expect a man who works lugging bells around to be brawnier than this, but he’s got his cardigan on and he looks like a watchmaker.”

Antiques Dealer, E6 1962 – “He sold everything, penny farthings, paintings, cigarette cards … everything. I used to go down there and see him, and have cup of tea and poke around.”

My Dad in the Back Yard, E13 1961 – “He had a deck chair and he sat in the garden with a cup of tea. I said to him, ‘Just sit and don’t do anything,’ and he’d just laugh. Great times! There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about him.”

Mates in Wapping, 1961 – “I think we were going down to the Prospect for a drink. I was seventeen years old, so everyone’s seventeen. It was Sunday and everyone’s got polished shoes. I haven’t been in touch, but they’re still around – I haven’t seen them for years.”

Man and Mannequin, Spitalfields 1965 – “This was just off the market. He’s listening to a portable radio on earphones. It looks like he has a mate with him and their bellies are almost touching.”

Edward and Mrs Simpson,  Spitalfields 1967 – “Another kind of portrait. I love the military jackets for sale and Edward’s got one on, while Wallace is hiding and pointing him out.”

Caretaker at Wilton’s Music Hall, Wapping 1964 – “It said, ‘Please ring for caretaker.’ So I rang for the caretaker. I said, ‘Are you the caretaker?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ So I said, ‘May I take a photo of you?’ and he gave me this lovely smile.”

Self-Portrait, E14 1982 – “It was an old toilet in Poplar, in use but at the end of its day. The mirror was still there. People asked me if I ‘d done self-portraits, so I thought I’d do one down there for the hell of it.”

My Mates, 1961 – “We all went out from the East End for the day somewhere. It might have been Southend, Brighton or Clacton, but I remember it was freezing.”

Man in a Knitted Hat, E17 1964 – “This was at Walthamstow Town Hall. He’d finished his fight, had a shower, put his hat on to keep warm, and we were chatting over a cup of tea. He was a visiting fighter from the States and his shirt says, ‘The Big Apple.'”

Woman in Her Kitchen, E12 1969 – “She had no home and a young family, and was staying in a building that was derelict. The council didn’t want people to use it, so there was barbed wire outside. It was a shelter, and they asked me to go down and take pictures to show how people were living there.”

Tony Moore and Joe Gallagher, Wapping 1970 – “Tony was an ex-heavyweight boxer and Joe was my ex-father-in-law. They look like they’re about to sort somebody out.”

My Friend JB, E14 1972 – “We met when we were both fifteen years old and working at McCann Erickson. We were both Eastenders. He was an incredible designer. He had a wonderful sense of humour. He died of a heart attack. He looked like a villain, and one day we went to New York together, and were in Little Italy in a restaurant, and this guy came in and said, ‘I remember you!’ I said, ‘We’d better get out of this place.'”

My Son, Spitalfields, 1982 – “I went along on a home visit with the Salvation Army and I saw this picture on the sideboard. I said, ‘Is that your son?’ and she said, ‘Yes, he was killed in the war.'”

Headless Bear, E2 1964 – “I just came across it. He had his head burnt off. He was lying there at the edge of a bomb site.”

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

John Claridge’s East End

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

In a Lonely Place

A Few Diversions by John Claridge

This was my Landscape

John Claridge’s Spent Moments

Signs, Posters, Typography & Graphics

Working People & a Dog

Invasion of the Monoliths

Time Out with John Claridge

Views from a Dinghy by John Claridge

People on the Street & a Cat

In Another World with John Claridge

A Few Pints with John Claridge

A Nation Of Shopkeepers

18 Responses leave one →
  1. Libby Hall permalink
    August 20, 2012

    How excellent it is that these marvellous images are being saved and shared the way they now are.

  2. August 20, 2012

    John, the images just get better and better, love these portrait pics. You have the same attitude to doing portraits of people in the street I have, I don’t really like grabbing and taking pictures without permission and I would nearly always ask first. Next Please…..

  3. August 20, 2012

    What a wonderful series, John captures the moment with so much honesty and heart, grainy Black and White, LOVE IT!

    Each picture tells so much, but then again it is John Claridge we’re talking about, and if there ever was a master, John is the one, photography flows through him.

    Thank you John for sharing, I look forward to the next round.


  4. August 20, 2012

    Fabulous images. Beautifully summarising the time.
    But that’s almost the problem for me now, looking at them through experience of the colour digital revolution of the last five years.
    To do a project like this now in B&W would seem to be a misrepresentation to me. Almost a censorship.

  5. ros permalink
    August 20, 2012

    Once again these hit the spot. They are powerful in themselves and in their ability to evoke the past, a past we hardly know we miss till we’re able to re-visit it like this.

  6. Cindy S. permalink
    August 20, 2012

    Spontaneous, uncompromising compelling, profound, abstract …………. Or maybe just OUTSTANDING!
    Best chapter so far- Thank you JC.

  7. Matt Johnson permalink
    August 20, 2012

    More wonderful images. Over the course of our lives, change (by and large) happens so incrementally that we don’t realise just how different a world we now live in until we are confronted by old images of places we once knew so well, only to then feel shocked at the simultaneous familiar / alien quality of it all.

  8. August 20, 2012

    John these are so amazing and I love the Claridge posse off to wherever for the day – thats great to be able to relate them to you as your friends,and as for Tony, wonderful picture but someone you may feel a little hesitant to meet down a dark ally but a brilliant picture as they all are – you have this ability to show all life in an instant as with the lovely lady with the picture of her son so poignant and they all accepted you without hesitation John that takes some doing – wonderful

  9. Cindy Hacker permalink
    August 20, 2012

    Some very interesting-looking characters in the raw and how clever of you to have captured them for us to share. X

  10. August 20, 2012

    Ohy my, another fantastic round of images. So when does the book come out?

  11. August 20, 2012

    Thanks for sharing these photos. They are just perfect, and such a fabulous record of a ‘time’. You capture the spirit of those photographed, without exception. A rare talent.

  12. August 20, 2012

    A sentimental journey of joy

  13. Chris F permalink
    August 20, 2012

    We all keep asking John, “When’s the book coming out”? But the book is out… We are simply getting it in eagerly awaited chapters. It’s just how Charles Dickens gave his stories to the world, a little at a time.

  14. Alice permalink
    August 21, 2012

    And they just keep coming! It’s incredible to know that these images are exactly as John shot them all those years ago. No digital, no photoshop and no post production. What an incredible talent which is so lacking in so many of todays ‘photographers’. As I and and so many others have already said; ‘When are these going to get published?’

  15. Marien de Goffau permalink
    August 21, 2012

    Great portraits in storytelling photography. John wants his story to be heard in unique black and white prints of the last East End community. One of them his dad in a deck chair. Brilliant. (See that already framed…)

  16. August 22, 2012

    Decaying bricks and mortar certainly tell a vivid tale but the real story
    of the East End and its sad decline into the annals of history lies in the faces
    and demeanour of those who lived through it all . . . JC’s naive and youthful lens
    captured wonderfully all that was going on around him . . . a truly everlasting
    portrayal of the end of the “East End Empire”.

  17. Olga Secerov permalink
    August 28, 2012

    Everyone in these portraits is totally different yet they speak the same language. My favourites are ‘woman in Her Kitchen’ and ‘My Mates in Wapping’. I would love a book of these photographs.

  18. john edwards permalink
    September 5, 2012

    Little shop of schnorrer’s and mensches goys and not many goils in this – half empty? Half Full? Yes.Through the glass darkly looking glass of warm reflections, rendered forever with that signature etched patina of JC’s that is his alone in getting right down to the nitty-gritty oh! so pretty graphic
    snarl of how it was. You had to laugh it was like being in a mime farce with monosyllabic coded
    lyrics. Wings of Desire c/w Bicycle Thief. Well done my son.

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