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Dragan Novakovic’s Brick Lane

August 1, 2020
by the gentle author

These Brick Lane photographs by Dragan Novaković are from the late seventies. 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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20 Responses leave one →
  1. Carolyn Dominic permalink
    August 1, 2020

    Captured brilliantly. My favourite is the guy shopping wearing his motorcycle helmet and his buttoned up overcoat.

  2. Marina permalink
    August 1, 2020

    Beautiful portraits of a time and place. Rare treasures!

  3. John Campbell permalink
    August 1, 2020

    Love the picture of the Churchill lookalike under the Vaseline advert. The newspaper sports headlines show a picture of the great Stanley Bowles playing for QPR so it must be from the late seventies. Great images from around the time of my childhood but they look a century old.

  4. August 1, 2020

    Fine photographs ! I seem to recognise some faces, certainly the woman with a bonnet sitting in the armchair with her feet off the ground. Perhaps the final image is the most striking, taken as it must have been from pretty much where Shoreditch Overground station now is & looking east : the degree of change from then to now is difficult to put into words. Thanks.

  5. Zak permalink
    August 1, 2020

    Gosh look how light and airy the last picture looks compared to today where all the new glass tower blocks suck all the light and day from the Area, today looks more depressing than the ‘hard times’

  6. August 1, 2020

    I so enjoyed the photographer’s comments — they made these already-fantastic photographs even MORE enjoyable. His urgency-in-the-moment to take the photos, without having a plan or endgame — just “because” — resonated with me. I can only imagine the enjoyment he got from cruising through these offbeat places, scooping up images of the incredible variety of
    faces, ages, poses, attitudes, merchandise (love the dangling clocks!) and human drama. I especially loved seeing the two guys eagerly poking through the box of record albums. Just that photo ALONE is a writing prompt that could keep me busy for a day or so. Notice the family resemblance, the hands (one large, one small) bracketing the carton and keeping others away (“hey, we’re LOOKING here……”), and the eccentric array of albums awaiting discovery.
    The humanity of these photos are a beacon. Loved it.

  7. paul loften permalink
    August 1, 2020

    I think they rank amongst the best photos of Brick Lane I have seen. Dragan captured the 70’s in a random visit and he also developed the film ! Yes we could have done with a few more. I looked for my father amongst the flat caps as the Sunday lane was one of his haunts , but that was more in the 50’s and 60’s , so alas he wasnt there . I doubt if would have been amongst the Trilby’s . He had an assorment of flat caps hanging from the coat stand , but only one Trilby. The working class loyalty to the flat cap was too strong for for most men. I think he bought the Trilby when he was promoted to a supervisor at work. The telegraphic workers whom he supervised would not have respected him as a supervisor had he turned up for work in a flat cap. There was a national Post Office Strike in 1971 which lasted a while and I have a picture of him picketing with his fellow staff outside Fleet Building holding a placard for a fair days wage with no cap at all , even though he was a supervisor !

  8. Philip Marriage permalink
    August 1, 2020

    Wonderful – so natural.

  9. Richard Smith permalink
    August 1, 2020

    Which just goes to show that ‘the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.’ Thank you GA.

  10. mick o'leary permalink
    August 1, 2020

    An absolutely fantastic set of photos. An “outsider’s” eye for truth in the capture of poverty and defiant spirits in search of survival. Such a time warp. I sometimes wonder if Brick Lane/Club Row was ever as I recollect from my 60s/70s childhood; then I see photos like these and know I am not drifting out of history and into madness.

    Thank you Dragan

  11. Linda Granfield permalink
    August 1, 2020

    LOVE the “Be Your Own Optometrist” photograph.

    Just keep trying those glasses on until you can see better!

    Splendid captures of a time and place. Flat caps everywhere!

  12. August 1, 2020

    These are Wonderful Pictures of the People looking at the things to buy. I really enjoyed so much.???????

  13. August 1, 2020

    A trip down memory (and Brick) Lane for me…..These images capture everything I remember about that place and those times. Thank you Dragan …..these are wonderful photographs.

  14. Ian Silverton permalink
    August 2, 2020

    Said it before on this site many time I know, but these pictures of the East End from the early 70s still shock me, of how poor the people of the East End where at this time, I left about 1965 for pastures new having been born there in 1944, looking at these made the correct choice they say never look back, and have never been back for years now somehow don’t think I ever will. Stay safe UK.

  15. August 2, 2020

    the best I’ve seen of Brick Lane, it captures the spirit of ‘then’ perfectly.

  16. August 2, 2020

    These photographs are just incredible. A magnificent record where the personalities around the market at that time jump out at you. I wish I could go back to that time just for one Sunday!

  17. August 2, 2020

    I like these photos very much. They are realistic without ever being grim. The photographer’s warmth towards his subject matter is very apparent.

  18. James Burke permalink
    August 5, 2020

    Great photos – I remember going there with my Uncle Dennis in the early seventies. The corrugated iron and odd buildings which had survived the Blitz. I once saw a bloke take his shirt off and sell it for the price of a drink!

  19. August 5, 2020

    God, they all look so desperate and miserable.

  20. David Wootton permalink
    August 28, 2020

    Lived for a while in London during the late 1960’s. Had forgotten just how much poverty there was then. Amazing how cheerful a lot of the folk were then even though many of them had sad lives.

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