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Raju Vaidyanathan’s Brick Lane

November 7, 2019
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

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    November 7, 2019

    Great pictures, very cool

  2. November 7, 2019

    When Spitalfields was undiscovered and still authentic. Roast meat at the Market Cafe.

  3. November 7, 2019

    What fantastic foresight to take so many pictures all those years ago, but incredible that they’ve not been printed until recently. From just the few seen above, they are amazing! Thank you for sharing.

  4. Eric Forward permalink
    November 7, 2019

    Great photos and I hope Raju goes on to develop and share the rest with us.

  5. Louise C Felder permalink
    November 7, 2019

    Great photos – I worked in Brick Lane on the corner (nos. 1-7) from 1983 – 1988 – your photos evoke many memories of the area during that time and all the walking around the area that I did in my lunch hours, becoming familiar with all the streets where my Father’s family lived from the 1900 – 1930’s.

  6. James W permalink
    November 7, 2019

    Great photos. Thanks Raju for your inspiration.

  7. John Campbell permalink
    November 7, 2019

    Looking forward to seeing more of these in the future.

  8. November 8, 2019

    Wonderful Pictures!! The Queen Mum looked Lovely. Thank You for ALL of these Pictures!!!?????????

  9. Caroline Martin permalink
    November 8, 2019

    The first photo reminds me of when my friends used to sell stuff in Cheshire Street in 1988/89. They had a contract with a council to clear flats and houses in between tenants. The real rubbish was taken to the local tip but saleable stuff such as table cloths, saucepans, glasswear etc they used to sell at a pitch in Cheshire Street for 10p, 20p, 30p per item. I used to go with them on a Sunday and wander along the street into the shops that often smelt of damp and old clothes. I hardly recognise the area now when I occasionally visit because it is so gentrified. Its lovely to see the buildings cared for but the atmosphere has definitely been lost.

  10. November 10, 2019

    So pleased to see these photographs published. I know Raju has a considerable archive of Spitalfields so I hope we see more!

  11. November 13, 2019

    Wonderful Raju, remember it well. Time for a book/album now!

  12. December 13, 2020

    Amazing photos – it seems strange looking at old photos of place you grew up in, they make it look something completely different, when they used to be so familiar ?

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