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John Claridge’s East End Landscapes

May 31, 2016
by the gentle author

Join me tomorrow, Wednesday 1st June, for the opening of the exhibition of John Claridge’s EAST END photography from 6pm at VOUT-O-RENEES, 30 Prescot St, Aldgate, E1 8BB. (Exhibition runs until 21st July)

This Thursday 2nd June, there is a book launch party for John Claridge’s EAST END from 6pm upstairs at THE FRENCH HOUSE, 49 Dean St, Soho, W1D 5BG.

On Friday 3rd June, John Claridge is talking about his EAST END photography with Stefan Dickers at 7pm at WATERSTONES PICCADILLY, W1J 9HD. Email to reserve your free ticket.

My Backyard, E.13 (1961) by John Claridge

“My bedroom and darkroom.  What more could you want?  Somewhere to get your head down.  Somewhere to get your print down.”

When William Wordsworth was growing up, he had an overwhelming epiphany of the power of the landscape while out in a boat upon Grasmere beneath a starry sky, and photographer John Claridge had an equally influential experience at a similar age  – in a very different kind of environment – while out on a night’s ratting expedition at a piggery next to the London Docks. “There was the glow of the lights of the dock, but all around us were vast expanses of darkness,” he told me in his excitement at recalling the wonder of the East End during his childhood in the nineteen-fifties, in the days before the halogen glow which obscures the stars today.

“It was a different kind of landscape – without fields – but it was a landscape I loved, the landscape I grew up with,” John confessed, remembering the acres of bombsites and craters, wasteland and allotments that he once knew, and which he recorded in these pictures. “When I was fifteen, I was interested in motorbikes, girls and photography, though I couldn’t say in what order,” he admitted to me with a laugh.

There is a certain cast of occluded light shared by many of these photographs that is partly the result of the London smog of that era, partly mist off the river and partly the light of the early morning when John delighted to explore the East End. “I’m still an early riser, from the days of getting up at five to do my paper round.” he explained, “I’d have breakfast with my dad and listen to his stories – that was my education – then I’d cycle around in the dawn delivering papers before school each morning. You always expected something to happen, but you had to let it happen – that was part of the excitement of seeing something that you weren’t expecting to see, and then you wanted to share it.”

In the post-war East End, prior to redevelopment, the open spaces created a landscape of possibility where nature thrived, where anyone could have an allotment, and where John liked to go scrambling on his motorbike. It was a landscape that offered emotional freedom and creative space to John, who as a fan of Dan Dare and Flash Gordon, was off on his own imaginative journey.

Ultimately, it was John’s talent that took the young photographer on a journey far from his native landscape, giving him a career filled with globe-trotting assignments. Today these early pictures record a place that no longer exists except as a personal landscape of memory. They show how the first landscape that met John’s eyes became the landscape upon which his vision as a photographer was shaped. And it is an epic landscape.

East End Blossom, E.1 (1960).  “Blossom on a bomb site.”

Canning Town Bridge in the Fog,  E.16 (1965).  “Shot from my motorbike (Triton) – stopped, of course.”

Sewer Bank Rd, E.13 (1964).  “My house was just over the fence to the right.”

Ford & Vauxhall,  E.15 (1960).  “Turner Prize?”

Clearing a Bomb Site, E.13 (1961). “The next street to where I lived.”

Iron Bridge, E.16 (1964).  “An iron bridge across the railway line, not far from the docks.”

The East End Horse, Allen Gardens, Spitalfields (1972).  “The horse takes a break from the harness of a dray cart.”

Smoke, E.16 (1963). “Winter’s morning looking towards Canning Town. I used to take my old scrambler motorbike and ride the bomb craters there.”

Vicky Park, E.3  (1962). “Where I used to take the occasional girlfriend.”

Canal, E.3  (1968).  “Early morning, grey day but full of expectation.”

After the Rain, E.16 (1982).  “That beautiful smell after everything’s had a good wash.”

Scrap Yard, E.16 (1982).  “Sometimes it got muddy.”

The Path, E.7 (1960). “Neglected cemetery, always so quiet.”

Allotments, E.6 (1963). ” This area always had a strange presence, a symbiosis between industrial and natural.”

The Small Creek, E.3 (1987). Daybreak.

Along the Track, E.16 (1973). “Shot from a parapet, early morning above the rail-track. I wanted a bit of height.”

Rooftops, E.3 (1982). “There was always a great man-made sculpture around, not to every one’s taste but I liked it.”

Slag Heaps, E.6 (1963). “This area seemed to always have a greyness that sat in the sky.”

Spillers, E.16 (1987). ” I loved these buildings, it was like walking into an early sci-fi movie.”

Photographs copyright © John Claridge


9 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert Green permalink
    May 31, 2016

    I cant wait to get a copy of this book, even this small selection of photos shown hear bring back so many memories for me, I know exactly where John Claridge lived now, he must have lived in Humberstone Road, he was litterally five minutes walk from me in Green Street, the photo of ‘Sewer Bank Rd’ (now called Boundry Lane) is a road that would lead on to what use to be known as ‘Becton dumps’, I along with countless others ( including Mr Claridge I bet ) use to spend hours tearing up and down the massive muddy slopes on our bikes, the Newham General Hospital complex is built on the site now and that footbridge over the railway at Canning Town was always known locally as “Peggy Leggy Steps” in the 60s and 70s I used to spend many an hour standing on that bridge with my late father watching the railway, it was close to where my father was born near Star Lane, goodness I could tell a story about every one of these photos, ( but don’t worry, you will all no doubt be relieved to hear I’m not going to ! ! ) even before I get it I just know this book is going to bring me so much pleasure, having had only a quick tantalizing glimpse at it so far Im litterally longing for the chance to study it in detail, after the launch I do hope it sells in BIG numbers because apart from being of great interest to those who love the East End I believe it will also provide an important post war reference of not just the physical change but also the social change of East London, I do so hope the launch is a tremendous SUCCESS.

  2. May 31, 2016

    Wonderful photos. I grew up at the same time, and loved the strange and fragile broken landscapes where we played, roamed freely and had a lot of fun. Valerie

  3. May 31, 2016

    A good set of pics in particular I liked; The East End Horse and The Small Creek at daybreak this pic was quite atmospheric Johns captions were good too. John played on man-made landscapes, playing on WW.2 bomb devastated land and bomb craters was typical at the time. It took into well into the 1960s to rebuild many of our cities ?have they finished yet. John

  4. Roger C permalink
    May 31, 2016

    Great photos, can’t wait for my copy of ‘East End’ to arrive 🙂 Such evocative views.

  5. May 31, 2016

    These photographs are such a beautiful account of the East End as it was. Thanks for championing John’s work.

  6. May 31, 2016

    the east end was a great place to live and grow up ,I had a wonderful childhood running wild ,exploring the dumps and the old tenement blocks ,I miss Bethnal green and the east end as it was ,its a deferent place now I could never go back to my roots .thanks for taking and showing us your photographs ,brings back happy memories .
    all the best

  7. Malcolm permalink
    May 31, 2016

    I wonder whether future generations will ever look at their past with the same sense of affection and loss as some of who knew these streets do? John’s photographs capture not only document the places but present them in such a way that only one who was there can do.
    I look forward to my eagerly awaited copy of the book and I shall be at Vout-o- Reenees tomorrow night and Waterstones on Friday.

  8. Vanda Human permalink
    June 3, 2016

    Such stunning photographs. John Claridge’s photos have a way of pulling you into them, its as if your are actually there, experiencing the emotions of the times. Wonderful work at bringing back the past.

  9. frances mayhew permalink
    June 4, 2016

    I have my copy now and it’s one of my most treasured possessions, haunting yet humane images of a lost world and time. Thank you for championing John’s (and other artists’) work in such a beautiful way.
    I very much enjoyed the exhibition at Vout-o-Reenees, making the whole experience of purchasing this book very personal and memorable.

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