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Tony Bock, Photographer

February 20, 2013
by the gentle author

At The Royal Oak, Bethnal Green

These pictures – published here for the first time – 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

Wapping Stairs

Demolition at Tiller Rd, Isle of Dogs

Commercial Docks, Rotherhithe

No remuneration to Place-keepers.

Photographs copyright © Tony Bock

32 Responses leave one →
  1. Judy permalink
    February 20, 2013

    Brilliant photographer!!! He certainly captured the essence of postwar London lingering on into the ’70s.

  2. February 20, 2013

    What fantastic photos, I love them. Quite dark and wicked.

  3. February 20, 2013

    And beautiful composition

  4. Libby Hall permalink
    February 20, 2013

    Lovely first photograph of the woman in the pub!

    They are all very interesting photographs, which mostly feel quite different to me from Tony Hall’s, Colin O’Brien’s, and John Claridge’s photographs of the East End. Can one detect that those photographers felt part of the community they were photographing and Tony Bock did not?

    I certainly sympathize with what was the final straw that drove Tony Bock out of England. Those were difficult times indeed!

  5. February 20, 2013

    Such evocative photos. It’s hard to pick a favourite (not that you asked) but I really like the Liverpool St station one – people’s heads stuck out of carriage windows…little people looking anxious on the platform. I love the corner store trying to decide what will get people in the door – tights? blades? purses? Just love it all.

  6. Susan Goldman permalink
    February 20, 2013

    Wonderful photographs. I love the sad clown and the view of the docks best of all, but they’re all great. Very atmospheric.

  7. Liz Lawrence permalink
    February 20, 2013

    Amazing photographs. Lived in Leytonstone then. Didn’t realise it was all so dingy. No wonder I used to feel so low.
    Great that you thought to take these marvellously evocative shots

  8. February 20, 2013

    More wonderful photos! Lovely to see these published. I noticed in the shop window display the font style is what you see designers using everywhere now – what goes around comes around, the old shop keeps knew what worked!

  9. February 20, 2013

    Great and resonant pictures, thanks for sharing as ever!

  10. February 20, 2013

    The last image of the poster advertising Van Amburgh and his black tiger would have been pasted up around 1840s – amazing it lasted so long until 1970s!!

  11. Stephen Brooke permalink
    February 20, 2013

    Brilliant photos

  12. Toni Ellwand permalink
    February 20, 2013

    Absolutely love these pix! They are so evocative of the area and the time!

  13. Calum permalink
    February 20, 2013

    Only London in the 70s could look like everywhere else did in the 50s.

  14. Dick Loek permalink
    February 20, 2013

    Fabulous photographs Tony. Great faces with stories to tell. Love the portrait of Bethnal Green having a pint. Great selection of historic images. Congratulations. Can’t beat Black and White.

  15. Paul Chester permalink
    February 20, 2013

    I love the picture of the old gal enjoying her Guinness.

  16. Sally permalink
    February 20, 2013

    Love the Wapping Stairs photo.

  17. Tommy F permalink
    February 20, 2013

    great photography, thanks for sharing

  18. Andrea permalink
    February 20, 2013

    This is my favourite kind of photography. The second one, Saturday night out in Dagenham, is like something out of George Grosz or Otto Dix. And I love the child reading in Watney Market, standing there so properly, bellbottoms dragging.

  19. Jose Cadaveira permalink
    February 20, 2013

    This photos are love a first sight. Brilliant work!

  20. friendl permalink
    February 21, 2013

    Was a kid in Hackney during the 70’s. The photo of the old lady with Guinness, reminded me of my old Great-Grandad who use to love Guinness and drink it down the end of Middleton road, the Paget Arms. Good times.

  21. February 21, 2013

    Marvellous photos and definitely ‘an eye’ at work here — quite different from any other photographer’s take on the East End. I love them.

  22. February 21, 2013

    Great stuff Tony. We miss you here!!

  23. February 21, 2013

    great pics ,always good to look at people photos .

  24. Lynne Newland permalink
    February 22, 2013

    I love these photos, especially the ones of Wapping, where I live now. I need to take a walk round to Pearl Street and decide where the photo was taken. Wapping Old Stairs is, of course, immediately recognisable as is Watney Market – wonderful.

  25. Miriam Delorie permalink
    February 25, 2013

    Stunning photos – It’s like the street jumps out at you! Would you have any recent or old photos of Artillery Lane in Spittalfields at all? My grandparents lived there in 1901. regards Miriam

  26. Jo Schmo permalink
    February 25, 2013

    So *that’s* what Rotherhithe used to look like before it got filled in with flats.

  27. Cherub permalink
    February 27, 2013

    There is sadness in the photo of the clown on Stratford Broadway. It’s very touching.

  28. Linda permalink
    March 24, 2013

    Saw that tiger poster or one very much like it when I was a kid around 1975 in the old docks at the bottom of Pennington st off the highway, we used to go over there fishing and getting up to mischief !! I was gonna nick it !

  29. October 2, 2013

    truly a great photographer ,I wish somebody would invent a time machine ,I would be the first to go back to the east end 1960s 1970s ..

  30. February 8, 2014

    I love these images!

  31. Jon Lisle-Summers permalink
    December 5, 2017

    Weird feeling of time travel. So real yet so far away.

  32. Steven Lewis permalink
    February 15, 2019

    Great photographs. HOw can I get to see more of Stepney Green and Whitechapel.

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