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A Walk Through Time In Spitalfields Market

March 19, 2018
by the gentle author

Once upon a time, the Romans laid out a graveyard along the eastern side of the road leading north from the City of London, in the manner of the cemetery lining the Appian Way. When the Spitalfields Market was demolished and rebuilt in the nineteen-nineties, stone coffins and funerary urns with copper coins were discovered beneath the market buildings – a sobering reminder of the innumerable people who came to this place and made it their own over the last two thousand years. Outside the City, there is perhaps no other part of London where the land bears the footprint of so many over such a long expanse of time as Spitalfields.

In his work, Adam Tuck plays upon this sense of reverberation in time by overlaying his own photographs upon earlier pictures to create subtly modulated palimpsests, which permit the viewer to see the past in terms of the present and the present in terms of the past, simultaneously. He uses photography to show us something that is beyond the capability of ordinary human vision, you might call it God’s eye view.

Working with the pictures taken by Mark Jackson & Huw Davies in 1991, recording the last year of the nocturnal wholesale Fruit & Vegetable Market before it transferred to Leyton after more than three centuries in Spitalfields, Adam revisited the same locations to photograph them today. The pictures from 1991 celebrate the characters and rituals of life within a market community established over generations, depicted in black and white photographs that, at first glance, could have been taken almost any time during the twentieth century.

In Adam Tuck’s composites, the people in the present inhabit the same space as those of the past, making occasional surreal visual connections as if they sense each others presence or as if the monochrome images were memories fading from sight. For the most part – according to the logic of these images – the market workers are too absorbed in their work to be concerned with time travellers from the future, while many of the shoppers and office workers cast their eyes around aimlessly, unaware of the spectres from the past that surround them. Yet most telling are comparisons in demeanour, which speak of self-possession and purpose – and, in this comparison, those in the past are seen to inhabit the place while those in the present are merely passing through.

Although barely more than a quarter cenury passed since the market moved out, the chain stores and corporate workers which have supplanted it belong to another era entirely. There is a schism in time, since the change was not evolutionary but achieved through the substitution of one world for another. Thus Adam’s work induces a similar schizophrenic effect to that experienced by those who knew the market before the changes when they walk through it today, raising uneasy comparisons between the endeavours of those in the past and the present, and their relative merits and qualities.

Brushfield St, north side.

Lamb St, south side.

Brushfield St, looking east.

In Brushfield St.

In Gun St.

Brushfield St, looking south-east.

Looking out from Gun St across Brushfield St.

In Brushfield St.

Market interior.

Northern corner of the market.

In Lamb St.

Lamb St looking towards The Golden Heart.

Photographs copyright © Mark Jackson & Huw Davies & Adam Tuck

Mark Jackson & Huw Davies photographs courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to look at more of Adam Tuck’s work

A Walk Through Time in Spitalfields

and Mark Jackson & Huw Davies pictures of the Spitalfields Market

Spitalfields Market Portraits, 1991

Night at the Spitalfields Market, 1991

Mark Jackson & Huw Davies’ Photographs of the Spitalfields Market

14 Responses leave one →
  1. March 19, 2018

    An intriguing conception, beautifully done.

  2. Phyllis permalink
    March 19, 2018

    This is what a great city is all about….the day to day lives of millions of people over time. Thank you!

  3. March 19, 2018

    Absolutely brilliant images. As someone who was actively involved in the transformation of the market, I am gratified that not such a bad job was done overall. Many of the current users will not remember the abject poverty of many of their predecessors, nor the environmental degradation of the area, happily changed for the better.

  4. March 19, 2018

    Wonderful time-travel compositions. Valerie

  5. John Barrett permalink
    March 19, 2018

    Adam I just like your style can we have some more please !refreshingly different. John a bus pass poet from Bristol

  6. Peter Holford permalink
    March 19, 2018

    Adam has quite a talent – the technical ability is good but the ability to perceive and deliver what he wants to reveal is stunning. I’ve dabbled in photoshopping two images to merge them into one which makes me very appreciative of what is depicted here. Awesome!

  7. March 19, 2018

    These are downright cinematic. The visual flow between past and present is so perfectly executed, such wonderful artful choices, a fantastic hopeful message.
    If I had two wishes……..I would love to watch while these images are concocted on-screen.
    That’s Wish One. Wish Two: MORE, please!

  8. Mary permalink
    March 19, 2018

    Truly magical!

  9. March 19, 2018

    I loved this. What an enjoyable time warp! Had to keep studying each photograph and picturing what life was like “back in the day.” Really quite fascinating and experiential. Thank you.


  10. frank hadley permalink
    March 19, 2018

    Great memories of growing up in Spitalfields , I went to St. Josephs school in Gun St.
    from 1950 – 1955 , Thank you Adam for creating these brilliant images.

  11. John Campbell permalink
    March 19, 2018

    “on a quiet street, where old ghosts meet” (Tom Waits)

  12. susan permalink
    March 20, 2018

    Such hard physical work then – not now.

  13. Simon Lee permalink
    March 20, 2018

    Great visions of the contrasts in use over not that long a period in reality. With the exception of the demise of the fruit and wool exchange I still think it’s very sympathetic in it’s redevelopment. For those of us that remember and experienced it’s previous use, it’s vibe and energy, you can still reminisce of those days when walking about now.

  14. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    March 22, 2018

    Gtgt grandpareNts lived in Gun street in the 1840 s

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