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Raju Vaidyanathan, Photographer

July 23, 2017
by the gentle author

Back of Cheshire St, 1986

“I used to climb up on the railway bridge and take photos,” explained photographer Raju Vaidyanathan when he showed me this picture which he has seen for the first time only recently even though he took it thirty years ago. A prolific taker of photos around Spitalfields, Raju possesses over forty thousand negatives of people and personalities in the neighbourhood which, after all this time, he is now beginning to print. So I went down to the Idea Store in Watney Market where Raju works to learn more about his remarkable photography.

“I was born in Brick Lane above the shop that is now called ‘This Shop Rocks,’ and I still live on the Lane. My father, Vaithy came to this country in 1949, he was brought over as one of the very first chefs to introduce Indian cooking and our family lineage is all chefs. They brought him over to be chef at the Indian embassy and the day he arrived he discovered they had already arranged a room for him and that room was on Brick Lane, and he lived there until he died.

In 1983, I managed to get hold of an old camera that someone gave me and I started taking photos. As a kid I was very poor and I knew that I was not going to be able to afford take photos, but someone said to me, ‘Instead of taking colour photos, why don’t you take black and white?’ I went to the Montefiore Centre in Hanbury St and the tutor said he would teach me how to process black and white film. So that is what I did, I am a local kid and I just started taking photos of what was happening around me, the people, the football team, the youth club – anything in Brick Lane, where I knew all the people.

Photography is my passion but I also like local history and learning about people’s lives. Sometime in the late eighties, I realised I was not just taking photographs for myself but making a visual diary of my area. I have been taking photos ever since and I always have a camera with me. I am a history collector, I have got all the Asian political leaflets and posters over the years. In the Asian community everyone knows me as the history guy and photographer

Until four years ago, I had been working until nine or ten o’clock every night and seven days a week but then they restructured my hours and insisted I had to work here full time at the Idea Store. Before, I was only working here part-time and working as a youth worker the rest of the time. Suddenly, I had time off in the evenings.

People started saying, ‘You’ve got to do something with all these photos.’ So I thought, ‘Let me see if I can start sorting out my negatives.’ I started finding lots put away in boxes and I took a course learning how to print. For the last two years, I go in once a week and print my photos and see what I have got. I bought a negative scanner and I started scanning the first two boxes of negatives. I have never seen these photos because I never had the money to print them. I just used to take the photos and process the film. So far, I have scanned about eight thousand negatives and maybe next year, once I have sorted these out, I will start scanning all the others.”

Junk on Brick Lane, 1985

Outside Ali Brothers’ grocery shop, Fashion St 1986. His daughter saw the photo and was so happy that his picture was taken at that time.

Modern Saree Centre 1985. It moved around a lot in Brick Lane before closing three years ago.

BYM ‘B’ football team at Chicksand Estate football pitch known as the ‘Ghat’ locally, 1986

108 Brick Lane, 1985. Unable to decide whether to be a café or video store, it is now a pizza shop.

‘Joi Bangla Krew’ around the Pedley Street arches. The BBC recently honoured Haroun Shamsher  from Joi (third from left) and Sam Zaman from ‘State of Bengal (far left) with a music plaque on Brick Lane

Myrdle Street, 1984. Washing was hung between flats until the late nineties.

Chacha at Seven Stars pub 1985. Chacha was a Bangladeshi spiv and a good friend of my father. Seven Stars was the local for the Asian community until it closed down in 2000.

Teacher Sarah Larcombe and local youths (Zia with the two fingers) on top of the old Shoreditch Goods Station, which was the most amazing playground

Halal Meat Man on Brick Lane, 1986

Filming of ‘Revolution’ in Fournier St, 1986. The man tapping for cash was killed by some boys a few months later.

Mayor Paul Beaseley and Rajah Miah (later Councillor) open the Mela on Hanbury Street, 1985

The Queen Mother arrives at the reopening of the Whitechapel Gallery, 1986

Raju Vaidyanathan on Brick Lane, 1984

Photographs copyright © Raju Vaidyanathan

You may also like to take a look at

Phil Maxwell’s Brick Lane

Sarah Ainslie’s Brick Lane

Colin O’Brien’s Brick Lane

Marketa Luskacova’s Brick Lane

Homer Sykes’ Spitalfields

15 Responses leave one →
  1. July 23, 2017

    Brick Laner Raju’s pic of Cheshire St market is full of interest with its dereliction backdrop. Would make an interest painting with added enhancements, its not too late. Brick Lane is a powerful brand of old, still is, a different time now with a fresh people flow, peace and harmony still reigns. Raju must make a big sift of his pics soon or he will be overwhelmed by them – your call. Perhaps he could get additional help for that final archive. I am sure this iconic London place is known round the World and is worth a look-see for the visitor. Poet John

  2. Ros permalink
    July 23, 2017

    What a treat to see these. A wonderful collection and it sounds as if there are lots more. The visual and human history is invaluable. Thank you Raju!

  3. Gill permalink
    July 23, 2017

    What wonderful photos of a time – looking forward to seeing more

  4. Libby permalink
    July 23, 2017

    What a beautiful and historic treasure trove of negatives! Scanning them all will be a Herculean task – but such an important and valuable task!

    I can imagine the excitement of having images emerge that have never before been printed. I’ve experienced a bit of that excitement myself with some old negatives of mine. There’s nothing quite like it!

    Raju Vaidyanathan understands the magic – and the truth – of Photography. Many congratulations to him.

  5. July 23, 2017

    So pleased you are showing Raju’s photographs. He has a unique collection of Spitalfields.

  6. Jim McDermott permalink
    July 23, 2017

    The intrinsic interest of the subjects aside, Raju’s processing has got those mid-tones spot on – not an easy task with B&W.

  7. pauline taylor permalink
    July 23, 2017

    A big thumbs up to Raju, these are good.

  8. July 24, 2017

    Brilliant Photos Raju.Thank You For Your Work.

  9. stuart goodmman permalink
    July 24, 2017

    wonderful insider photos. i knew the area well but never from the perspective of being in the community.

    book please!!!

  10. Sparks permalink
    July 24, 2017

    Great photos!
    A wonderful social history there.

  11. Philip Marriage permalink
    July 24, 2017

    Wow! Forty thousand negatives, that’s a lifetime of picture-taking and now another of scanning. I know this to be immensely rewarding exercise having completed a thousand or so of my own, particularly discovering ‘new’ images as well as reacquainting yourself with old friends. Good luck with this and I trust we will see many many more of these wonderful photos in the years to come.


  12. July 25, 2017

    Love these photos.
    Old friends & places

  13. Raju Vaidyanathan permalink
    August 13, 2017

    The word ‘Photographer’ after my name is misleading. I am not a photographer by trade but by hobby, I suppose. I just wanted to take a visual diary of what went on around my manor.
    Thanks for the comments and I will leave more photos soon.

  14. Sham permalink
    March 6, 2018

    Raju wonderful pictures! Are you exhitbiting again anytime soon? Any plans for a book? Also do you remember the site of a cash and carry that was around in the 70’s and 80’s I think it was called Salim & Nalims or something like that. My dad would take us kids on a weekend.

  15. Raja Miah permalink
    July 2, 2018

    Excellent collection of past history. Give us more please.

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