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The Apotheosis Of Phil Maxwell

April 5, 2014
by the gentle author

On Thursday night at six o’clock, crowds poured in to the Rich Mix Centre to celebrate the work of Phil Maxwell and his extraordinary thirty years of photographing the East End, upon publication day of his new book.

Beginning in 1981, Brick Lane records the passing away of one world and the arrival of another in the span of a generation. Looking at Phil’s early pictures, you feel are witnessing the last lingering glimmer of the nineteenth century – the last shreds of Dickens’ London – yet, by the end, it is unquestionably the present day and our own time. Repeatedly this week, I have found myself leafing back and forth through the three hundred pages of ‘Brick Lane’ to seek a perspective upon the changes we have seen. Each time, I discover new details and I know I shall keep returning to Phil’s book for years to come.

Many hundreds came to carry off copies and meet the man responsible for this epic record of turbulent social change upon one street. Some suggested that Phil’s book documents how Brick Lane has been ruined, while others commented that it shows the place is in better repair these days and people on the street look healthier and happier – that the poverty apparent in the earlier photographs has gone. But the fascination and success of Phil Maxwell’s vision is that it defies any simple interpretation and, as guests stood around leafing through pages and studying the book, a consensus arose that these photographs comprise the historic record of our times.

Thanks to the generosity of Truman’s Beer, everyone was welcomed with a glass of ale and the collective excitement of this lively gathering, with many of those featured in the photographs present, conjured a strong community atmosphere – as captured in these pictures by Contributing Photographer Simon Mooney.

Phil Maxwell signed books for two hours without respite as the line of those awaiting his autograph grew no shorter, until eight o’clock when the crowd fell silent as Lola Perrin took to the stage for a performance at the piano accompanying film sequences of Phil’s photographs edited by Hazuan Hashim. Each one revealed alternative versions of the same shot, permitting us to see through Phil’s eyes as he sought the definitive image. We stood in rapture to see our familiar streets inhabited by the shades of the past and then watched as they faded like memories.

The culmination of the evening came at the end when Phil Maxwell appeared on stage for a short curtain call with his partner Hazuan Hashim and Lola Perrin the musician. A roar of thunderous applause and loud cheers filled the space from the floor to the balcony. It was a clamour of delight at a one man’s remarkable lifetime of achievement in photography. It was the apotheosis of Phil Maxwell.

Phil Maxwell, Lola Perrin and Hazuan Hashim take a bow

Photographs copyright © Simon Mooney


Posters can be obtained free from Bishopsgate Library, Brick Lane Bookshop, Broadway Bookshop,  Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen, The Golden Heart, Rough TradeSCPLabour & WaitLeila’s ShopNewham Bookshop Townhouse. Each outlet has 50 posters to give away.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. April 5, 2014

    It is good that there is less poverty around than when I was a kid, and I am sure it is better for people to be living in better housing, but why does change always involve so much destruction, especially in the East End of London? Glad so many people came to celebrate Phil’s book, he has created a wonderful record. Valerie

  2. April 5, 2014

    ~* Warm congratulations to Phil Maxwell! *~ What a remarkable artist/photographer!

    ~* Gratitude to Simon Mooney for documenting the event for us to enjoy in the States! *~

    ~* Much gratitude, as always, to the Gentle Author, for this lovely “Apotheosis” narrative! *~

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    April 5, 2014

    This is getting annoyng. Again, I really wanted to come … but the Fitwilliam Quartet were performing less than 5 minutes walk from my front door [ Haydn, a new commission, Verdi & the Beethoven “Razumovsky” ]
    ONE of these days, I’ll find an event that doesn’t clash ….
    But, I can still buy the book, of course!

  4. Libby Hall permalink
    April 5, 2014


    Three cheers for Phil Maxwell: for his passion and compassion, his vision, his sense of fun, and most of all for his understanding of the lives of us ordinary human beings.

    And three cheers for Spitalfields Life Books for making it possible for us to have this beautifully produced record of the Brick Lane I first knew and loved, and of its evolution into something today that is so different.

    A beautiful book – at an extraordinary bargain price of only £10.

  5. April 5, 2014

    Lovely party yesterday — so sad that I couldn’t be there … But I look forward to the ordered copy of the book!

    Love & Peace

  6. April 5, 2014

    Wow what a night, A great turn out for a very special person.
    I bumped into people I have not seen in 20 years

  7. April 5, 2014


  8. Denise Merrill permalink
    April 5, 2014

    Dear Gentle Author I wonder when you started this blog that you could have had any idea how it would become such an extraordinary living documentary with all the characters and places brought vividly to life, each given given it’s own gloriously illustrated story – it’s truly remarkable , unique and priceless. You are amazing!

  9. April 5, 2014

    I SOoo wanted to be there but it couldn’t be done – hence I introduced my boy to the Lane last week …. to the next generation. x

  10. Vicky permalink
    April 5, 2014

    An excellent evening beautifully captured here by TGA and Simon Moody. What a queue for the book signing and posters, but we all had glasses of Trumans in our hands, so were well catered for! The book was pored over by my 8yr old neighbour, fascinated by how Brick Lane, which he knows well, looked in the ‘old days’. It’s amazing value for money.

  11. Bricklanemafia permalink
    April 5, 2014

    A very loved man!

  12. April 8, 2014

    My copy arrived on Friday – excellent work; well done to all involved in making it happen.

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