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In A Dinghy With John Claridge

July 13, 2016
by the gentle author

You have until July 21st to visit John Claridge’s EAST END photography exhibition at Vout-O-Reenee’s in Aldgate and there are still tickets available for the EAST END documentary film show introduced by David Collard at Vout-O-Reenees this Thursday 14th July at 7pm. (Email to reserve your free ticket)

Ship maintenance, 1964

Take a trip down the Thames at a relaxed pace with Photographer John Claridge, in his tiny inflatable dinghy with outboard motor attached. The journey begins in 1961 when the London Docks were still working and ends in the nineteen eighties once they were closed for ever. This set of photographs – published here for the first time – are some of the views to be seen on that voyage.

Setting out at dawn, John’s photographic adventures led him through smog and smoke, through early morning mist, through winter fog and haze upon the river, all filtering and refracting the light to create infinite luminous effects upon the water. In the previous century, Joseph Mallord William Turner and James McNeill Whistler had attempted to evoke the distinctive quality of Thames light upon canvas, but in the mid-twentieth century it was John Claridge, kid photographer from Plaistow, who came drifting out of the London fog, alone in his dinghy with camera and long lens in hand to capture his visions of the river on film.

Look, there is a man scraping an entire boat by hand, balanced precariously over the water. Listen, there is the sound of the gulls echoing in the lonely dock. “It smells like it should,” said John, contemplating these pictures and reliving his escapades on the Thames, half a century later, “it has the atmosphere and feeling of what it was like.”

“You still had industry which created a lot of pollution, even after the Clean Air Act,” he recalled, “People still put their washing out and the dirt was hanging in the air. My mum used to say, ‘Bloody soot on my clean clothes again!'” But in a location characterised by industry, John was fascinated by the calm and quiet of the Thames. “I was in the drink, right in the middle of the river,” John remembered fondly, speaking of his trips in the dinghy, “it was somewhere you’d like to be.” John climbed onto bridges and into cranes to photograph the dock lands from every angle, and he did it all with an insider’s eye.

Generations of men in John’s family were dock workers or sailors, so John’s journey down the Thames in his dinghy became a voyage into a world of collective memory, where big ships always waited inviting him to depart for distant shores. Yet John’s little dinghy became his personal lifeboat, sailing on beyond Tower Bridge where in 1964, at nineteen years old, he opened his first photographic studio near St Paul’s Cathedral. John found a way to fulfil his wanderlust through a professional career that included photographic assignments in every corner of the globe, but these early pictures exist as a record of his maiden voyage on the Thames.

Across the River, 1965

Gulls, 1961

Quiet Evening, 1963

Smog, 1964

At Berth, 1962 – “It wills you to get on board and go somewhere.”

Three Cranes, 1968

Skyline, 1966 – “I climbed up into a crane and there was a ghostly noise that came out of it, from the pigeons roosting there.”

Steps, 1967

Crane & Chimney Stack, 1962

Spars, 1964

Barges, 1969

After the Rain, 1961

Capstan, 1968

From the Bridge, 1962

Across the River, 1965

Wapping Shoreline, 1961 – “I got terribly muddy, covered in it, sinking into it, and it smelled bad.”

Thames Barrier, 1982

At Daybreak, 1982

Warehouses, 1972

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


11 Responses leave one →
  1. Chris F permalink
    July 13, 2016

    I love the ‘Three Cranes’ and the ‘Barges’… Very atmospheric….

  2. July 13, 2016

    A good set of pics by John C keep them all safe they will be priceless in say 100 years time. Researchers will need all the historical docs and pics they can get then. ? not sure which digital formats will be survive by then if any ie future-proof. I liked the pics showing the Thames at low tide lots of archaeological goodies are buried in the mud and gravely banks also pics show a big empty river ? where is it all gone. My favourite view of the Thames is from behind Kew Palace with a few Kew G trees thrown in, nice go for it. John

  3. Richard permalink
    July 13, 2016

    I really enjoyed these, especially After the Rain.

  4. July 13, 2016

    Very fascinating photos, and just as I remember it from childhood times. Valerie

  5. Helen Breen permalink
    July 13, 2016

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, very evocative. Love the “Steps 1967” and “After the Rain 1961.”

    On my recent trip to London, I visited the Docklands Museum which preserves so much of that period, albeit surrounded now by a gentrified neighborhood.

  6. Shawdian permalink
    July 13, 2016

    Very nice set of photos of the Thames as it was when it was ‘alive’. The Thames is like everything else about London now, bland or dead, turning into nothing more than a tourist
    site and not for actual day to day living. These pictures show how raw life on the water was cold and hard like a lot of old London Life. But at least it was real.

  7. July 13, 2016

    This is as good a time as any to say how much I have loved “East End” by John Claridge. I had very high expectations, and the book exceeded ALL of them. I’ve recommended it to artist friends here in the US and they all have the same excited reaction: “Wow!”. The book is one of my favorite volumes to keep within arm’s reach on the coffee table — ready at a moment’s notice any time I want another blast of Claridge inspiration and “grit”. For those of us who love having a real
    BOOK to have and hold — this is one of my all time favorites.

  8. pauline taylor permalink
    July 13, 2016

    If we needed proof of just how good John’s photographs are these are that proof, but I don’t need any proof, John is just the best in my book. He has an artist’s eye as I think I might have said before, and the feeling of atmosphere and of being there is quite remarkable. Thank you GA and John for helping me to understand the magic of the river

  9. July 13, 2016

    After the rain has the composition of an East End Group painting. The Steps is my favourite. Just looking at it, sets off a skiffle group singing ‘Down by the Riverside’ in my head.

    These are very atmospheric photographs with real aesthetic and historical value.

  10. kristine dillon permalink
    July 14, 2016

    What beautiful atmospheric photos. Between seeing these images and reading the Gentle Author’s post, I feel as if I have been transported back in time and am traveling down the Thames in the early 1960s. Now if only I could do that!

  11. Malcolm permalink
    July 14, 2016

    He’s a great photographer and nice geezer, even though he wouldn’t tell me how he printed his photographs!

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