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Tony Bock’s East End

March 2, 2017
by the gentle author

At The Royal Oak, Bethnal Green

These pictures 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

10 Responses leave one →
  1. March 2, 2017

    They are all wonderful, but I particularly love the genius of the dogs photo

  2. Peter Robinson permalink
    March 2, 2017

    Look forward so much to my daily dose of Gentle Author. Many thanks for your insightful views.

  3. March 2, 2017

    These photographs are wonderful. It’s a shame Tony left the East End when he did but he’s left us a marvellous glimpse into the 70s. The corner shop in Sidney Street was the last remaining building from the time of the Siege and was burnt down in the last decade I think. Saturday night out in Dagenham is a classic.

  4. Dinah Pounds permalink
    March 2, 2017

    The times have been captured brilliantly in these photographs.

  5. Max Reeves permalink
    March 2, 2017

    Great photos….thanks…love to see more…

  6. Shaun Peters permalink
    March 2, 2017

    Evocative photographs as always.

    Children playing in the past in a way they can rarely do nowadays.

    The poster at the end seems to belong to a different age from the rest.

  7. March 2, 2017

    Wonderful photos, the first is pure genius! Valerie

  8. Marian Ellison permalink
    March 2, 2017

    This is a great blog….and Tony Bock’s photos really took me back to the 1970s….very poignant for me…thank you.

  9. Holly Howard permalink
    March 2, 2017

    Amazing as is all your photos!

  10. Colin Barber permalink
    March 5, 2017

    A great series of photos – these scenes bring the 70s back vividly.

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