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Colin O’Brien’s Children On The Street

April 7, 2016
by the gentle author

Colin O’Brien will be showing his pictures and talking about photographing London through seven decades at The Wanstead Tap next Tuesday 12th April. Click here for tickets

Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien has been photographing children playing on the street since 1948 when, at eight years old, he snapped his pals in the markets of Hatton Garden and the bombsites of Clerkenwell.

For Colin in his childhood – as for many others – the bombed-out ruins of London proved the largest adventure playground in the world and the streets of the city and its markets offered as much drama, distraction and delight as any child could wish for.

Colin’s pictures show how children once inhabited the city and made it their own, exploring and discovering the world that they would inherit, learning to respect it dangers and savour its pleasures. Colin was especially fascinated by the age-old pastimes such as hopscotch and skipping games, and the ingenuity that children displayed in making their own amusement, turning any space into a playground.

Little did Colin know he was photographing the end of a certain street culture, as the age in which children could run freely passed away, and the television and then the computer encouraged them indoors. In the current climate of anxiety over perceived threats, today’s children have lost the freedom of previous generations and consequently are denied the opportunity to become streetwise at an early age.

Yet Colin’s superlative photographs exist to remind us that the city belongs to children, as much as to everyone else, and removing their right to the streets sacrifices an important part of the urban experience of childhood.

Colin’s photograph of his pals, taken in 1948 at the age of eight in Hatton Garden.

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

Take a look at more pictures by Colin O’Brien

Gina’s Restaurant Portraits

Colin O’Brien, Photographer

Travellers’ Children in London Fields

Colin O’Brien’s Brick Lane Market

Colin O’Brien Goes Back To School

7 Responses leave one →
  1. David Tarrant permalink
    April 7, 2016

    What charming photographs and what a moving introduction by our Gentle Author. Thank you so much for sharing. Colin O’Brien and Cartier Bresson are my favourite street photographers, together with the Gentle Author.

  2. April 7, 2016

    I love what’s been captured here. Love the King Fu Kids and the look on the baby’s face as she tries to make sense of the doorman. They’re all great though. Reminded me of when I was employed as a summer playleader back in the 1980s with groups of sparky neighbourhood kids. Great start to the day.

  3. April 7, 2016

    Great photos which bring back a lot of memories. We always roamed the streets of Docklands and East London as kids, played by the Thames, on bomb-sites, and probably did a lot of things which would be regarded as too dangerous today. But we did have fun, and lots of freedom, and it was a good time. Valerie

  4. richard permalink
    April 7, 2016

    Nice shot of the girl in a blazer with her ice cream. The wafer cones and adverts for Guards cigarettes. Enjoyed all the photos.

  5. April 9, 2016

    Sweet Childhood — and so far away …!

    Love & Peace

  6. April 21, 2016

    My favourite collection of yours Colin

  7. Judith Olley permalink
    May 28, 2016

    Iconic images from the 60’s.
    Living in council flats and caravan holidays in Margate.

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