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David O’Mara’s Spitalfields

January 14, 2019
by the gentle author

I have published many pictures of renovations of old houses in Spitalfields but David O’Mara‘s candid photography reveals the other side of these stories, recording the back-breaking labour and human toil that is expended upon these endeavours

“For the past ten years I have worked as a painter & decorator in London, both as a means of surviving and also funding my artistic practice – but the roles of artist & decorator are not always easily reconciled, time demands and budgets often lead to a conflict of interests.

My work is described as ‘restoration,’ though I began to question the truth of this description. From the beginning, you strip back the layers of previous occupants. Cupboards, doors and walls that were later additions are all removed. At every turn and removal you notice the evidence of previous lives, all to be erased and replaced with freshly painted blank surfaces – everything is pared back to the tabula rasa.

This has a resonance with my own experience: the daily repetition of tasks erodes memory, time is distilled into but a few recollections. I started photographing my working life as a way of recording the disappearing history of the houses and also to combat the erosion of memory through the repetition of work.” – David O’Mara

Photographs copyright © David O’Mara

You may also like to read about

A Renovation in Fournier St

Before & After in Fournier St

All Change At 15 & 17 Fournier St

Dave Thompson, Joiner

Jim Howett, Designer

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Marie-Anne Knight permalink
    January 14, 2019

    I love these old houses and dearly wish I could afford to buy one of them, restored to its former glory. One can dream…!

  2. John Woodman permalink
    January 14, 2019

    Wonderful images. Thank you.

  3. ja woolf permalink
    January 14, 2019

    Great photos!

  4. aubrey permalink
    January 14, 2019

    I visited many of these unoccupied late Georgian and Victorian refurbishments during my previous professional building inspection days. Some of the working conditions suffered by the operatives were/are just terrible. Dust and grime, darkness, strewn rubbish, hazardous floors and walls and, sometimes, the smell that often seems to linger on one’s olfactory gland long after departing from some of these premises.
    However From an academic/artistic viewpoint I can appreciate that these places can be very interesting both in the way they were constructed and their history. Excellent atmospheric photos.

  5. January 14, 2019

    Fascinating images and insights into the work involved in restoring these places. Valerie

  6. pauline taylor permalink
    January 14, 2019

    It looks as if this is an extremely dangerous and unpleasant way to earn a living, and I take David’s point so many reminders and memories of past occupants are destroyed in the process. Strangely enough a customer of ours was telling me about her concerns regarding this aspect of restoration only last week. But I guess it is inevitable if these properties are to be saved.

  7. January 14, 2019

    Extraordinary photographs from David O’Mara. Would love to see more.

  8. January 14, 2019

    David O’Mara’s short text is poignant.

  9. January 14, 2019

    “At every turn and removal you notice the evidence of previous lives, all to be erased and replaced with freshly painted blank surfaces…”

    those three paragraphs are a moving and nuanced introduction to these images.

  10. January 14, 2019

    The nobility of work. I will never look at a restored building again, without thinking of these
    photos. This is a magnificent, ultra-narrative series. I could almost HEAR the grunts, sighs,
    scrapes, groans, and trudging footsteps.

    Thank you so much taking us inside this world of WORK.
    I salute all the workers, and wish I could buy each and every one of them a round at the pub!
    Carry on, gents.

  11. Paul Loften permalink
    January 14, 2019

    You once again give us another dimension to what is seen as the routine and normal in daly life. The erosion of memory from two aspects . One aspect the physical removal of the past and the second being the psychological effect of performing repetitive tasks. It is something important we should be made aware of Thank you both David and the GA.
    Your blog is something special !

  12. Mark P permalink
    January 14, 2019

    Such insights! I appreciate his comments that house renovation is really revealing and erasing of past lives, and how our daily memories distill down and fade. I think too of how past renovators were equally as hard working, thoughtful, and wise…fabulous stuff.

  13. Pauline permalink
    January 14, 2019

    Thank you for publishing these photos. We often see the ‘before and after’ photos taken by proud owners but rarely see the hard work involved by the wonderful tradespeople especially working in such miserable weather.

  14. January 14, 2019

    Amazing , thought provoking photographs and text……thank you .

  15. Kate O'Mara permalink
    January 16, 2019

    Excellent as always! (no relation either!) 🙂

  16. January 29, 2019

    Those are spectacular photographs.

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