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Dragan Novaković’s Brick Lane

February 15, 2018
by the gentle author

These Brick Lane photographs from the late seventies by Dragan Novaković are published for the first time here today. Dragan came to London from Belgrade in 1968 and returned home in 1977, working for the state news agency Tanjug and then Reuters before his retirement in 2011.

‘I printed very rarely and very little, and for the next forty-odd years had these photographs only as contact sheets.’ explains Dragan, ‘I saw them properly as ‘enlargements’ for the first time in 2012, after I had scanned the negatives and post-processed the files.’

“I was introduced to London’s street markets by my friend and fellow countryman Mario who had a stall in Portobello Market specializing in post office clocks and bric-a-brac. I enjoyed sitting there with him amid the hustle and bustle, with people stopping by for a chat or to strike a bargain.

One early winter morning Mario picked me up in his old mini van and told me we were going to Bermondsey Market in search of clocks. It was still dark and foggy when we arrived and what met my eye made me gaze around in wonder – the scene looked to me as something out of Dickens!

The second time we went looking for clocks Mario took me to Brick Lane. Though there were plenty of open-air markets where I came from, I had seen nothing of the kind and size of Brick Lane and was fascinated by the crowds, the street musicians, the wares, the whole atmosphere. I sensed a strong community spirit and togetherness. I was hooked and I knew that I would have to come again in my spare time and take pictures.

Over the years I visited Brick Lane and other East End markets whenever I could spare the time and afford a few rolls of film. Living first in Earl’s Court and then behind Olympia, I would mount my old bicycle, bought in Brick Lane (of course!), and pedal hard across the West End in order to be there where life overflowed with activity.

I took what I consider snapshots without any plan or project in mind but simply because the challenge was too strong and I could not help it. I developed the films and made contact prints regularly but, never having a proper darkroom, made no enlargements to help me evaluate properly what I had done. Now I wish I had taken many more pictures at these locations.” – Dragan Novaković

Photographs copyright © Dragan Novaković

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22 Responses leave one →
  1. February 15, 2018

    Nice work, Mr Novakovic!

    But gosh, there weren’t many smiles to be found down the Lane on your visits. Hopefully, local milk was kept safely where it couldn’t be turned sour by a stray glance.

    And I wonder if true patriots and ardent masochists are still searching for playable copies of ‘The British Accordion World of Arthur Spink’.

  2. February 15, 2018

    Very evocative photos! Valerie

  3. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    February 15, 2018

    What superb photographs. Thank you very much for sharing them.
    They are so lyrical.

  4. February 15, 2018

    These photographs are wonderful.

  5. February 15, 2018

    Oh gosh! I remember that balloon man! Thank you for posting these photographs. They take me right back to my childhood. I’m hoping that somewhere exists a picture of the ‘apple fritter man’. My granddad would give me half a crown on Sunday and I’d go with my nan to Brick Lane market to buy apple fritters. She wouldn’t let me buy the ones already made and bagged as she was convinced that you had to watch him put the piece of apple in the fritter batter or there was a good chance there wouldn’t be one.

  6. Celt permalink
    February 15, 2018

    What fantastic,atmospheric photographs. I’m so glad somebody took them!

  7. StephenJ permalink
    February 15, 2018

    Dragan certainly spreads the love GA…

    These are great pictures that are being released to different blogs, bit by bit.

    We had Macfilos with the North of England, and last week we had Leicaphilia with Bermondsey and some more generalist 1970’s glory.

    He has a very good eye, now that all individual effort seems to have left London, to be replaced by corporatist scheiße, I wonder whether anyone will find the new urban environment as photogenic ever again?

    I traverse a lot of London, but I am consistently disappointed at the sameness, even the graffiti is somewhat generic.

  8. February 15, 2018

    Terrific pictures, but including some people I definitely wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night.

  9. Philip Marriage permalink
    February 15, 2018

    Marvelous. What a good eye – these photos speak so eloquently.

  10. February 15, 2018

    “Atmospheric” on the loud speaker! As I scan through these, I can feel it, smell it, hear it. A whiff of cigarette smoke, a florid perfume, maybe some food grilling, a man’s pipe. Clanging pots, people barking comments or calling to their buddy: “Hey, get over here!”, etc. This series captures The Hunt, the urge to collect, the fabulous unexpected goofy Find, and simply what it feels to be out and about on market morning. This was better than a documentary!
    Loved it.

  11. Spunkyshorts permalink
    February 15, 2018

    Marvellous photos. Thank you so much for publishing them, Mr Dragan Novaković

    The Spitalfields market site and the wider environs of Shoreditch didn’t look a whole lot different in 1990 than the images here, taken in the late 1970s.

    I’m a Londoner, but only became familiar with the Spitlafields/Shoreditch area in 1990 when working as a Highway’s Engineer. There was a plan at the time to build an urban motorway through to the City from North London and I surveyed the streets on foot.

    Spitalfields Market had gone by 1990 and what remained looked like a bomb-site, surrounded by Dickensian squalor – this was only moments from Liverpool Street station. One day, I was marking street furniture on a map and looked round to see my bag missing. I had absently strayed quite far from it in my preoccupation. Across the vacant quadrant, I could see a tramp disappearing towards a burning oil drum with my property!
    I ran after him shouting an he turned round, apologised fulsomely and returned my bag without delay. I remember he was well-spoken and now often think I dreamt the whole event!

  12. Sue permalink
    February 15, 2018

    Wonderful set of street portraits. Great work.

  13. Catherine permalink
    February 16, 2018

    These remind me of the wonderful photos by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in “London Street Markets,” a book published in the 1930s (unfortunately now pretty much impossible to find) .

  14. Anita Patel permalink
    February 16, 2018

    These photos are so iconic that in frame after frame I felt like I recognized the people. They provided a wonderful review of the people in the streets, on buses and trains that I saw growing up as a child after the war. Amazing that the pictures were take in the 70s.
    Thank you Dragan for transporting me totally.

  15. February 16, 2018

    Thank you all for your kind comments. I am deeply touched and very happy that my photographs mean something to you. My best wishes to all of you. Dragan

  16. February 16, 2018

    Drawn from live …!

    Love & Peace

  17. Pritam Singh permalink
    February 17, 2018

    These photographs have a timeless quality and beg to be absorbed slowly and deliberately, morsel by morsel. What a feast!
    Thank you for sharing and hats off to Mr. Dragan Novakovic.

  18. February 18, 2018

    Beautiful evocative work, faces that go right to the heart of of place that has changed so much.
    So glad they have been brought out from the contact sheets. This is very powerful work. Thank you Dragan.

  19. Jonathan Reynolds permalink
    February 18, 2018

    Wonderful! Please publish a book.

  20. February 18, 2018

    Wonderful work. Thank you Dragan and GA

  21. Val Mutch permalink
    August 3, 2020

    Wonderful pictures. Very evocative of my youth and going ‘down the lane’ on a Sunday morning.
    Fascinating. Thank you.

  22. Roy fitch permalink
    November 21, 2020

    This is my brick lane, my father used to bring me here in the 70’s, the squeezing through the thousands of people, people selling junk on old sheets, in bacon Street blokes selling “tom”.apple fritters and sarsparella, the derelict shops with one room being used, the last of the Teddy boys hanging around, the national front selling papers on the the corner of brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road.
    The small man standing on a stool bending glasses over a naked late father slept on floors and snooker tables when he was homeless at a very young age in brick Lane, he lived in the nile when back on his feet.
    Now filled with champagne socialists who have killed the area thinking they enhance it with artesian bread, oil and vinegar dip, unfortunately they have killed it instead. Now only the homeless or rich snowflakes can live there.

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