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Raju Vaidyanathan’s Brick Lane

March 5, 2021
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.

“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 a few years ago, I had been working until nine or ten o’clock every night and seven days a week at the Watney Market Idea Store but then they restructured my hours and insisted I had to work here full time. 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 a couple of years, I went in once a week to print my photos and see what I had got. I bought a negative scanner and I started scanning the first boxes of negatives. I had 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, 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

Colin O’Brien’s Brick Lane

Marketa Luskacova’s Brick Lane

Homer Sykes’ Spitalfields

10 Responses leave one →
  1. March 5, 2021

    Wonderful photos – they really show everyday life in Brick Lane in the ‘8Os.

  2. March 5, 2021

    Nice article! I know the problems with not-yet-developed films and photos not enlarged on paper. Also, I still want to digitize old negatives at some point…. I wonder if I can do it in this lifetime?

    Love & Peace

  3. March 5, 2021

    The depth of this blog post was amazing. First, we have the self description of a man…. his personal history, his career trajectory, his family background, his neighborhood, etc. Then, the Big Reveal — the hobby that became a passion, that continues to sustain and interest him. As he puts it, he is KNOWN as “the history guy and the photographer”. How wonderful to be known in one’s community for our gifts and our enthusiasms? Seriously.
    The community that he has captured in-print is so vibrant and alive — I expect a reflection of the photographer himself. That’s just my speculation, but I thought this post totally radiated with a personal voice, a spark, a distinctive way of sharing. So glad that it concluded with a color photo of the man himself.

    Life-affirming and optimistic. Thank you, GA.

  4. paul loften permalink
    March 5, 2021

    40,000 negatives ! I look forward to seeing some more of these. Thank you both for the photos

  5. March 5, 2021

    I remember seeing Chaca ( we never knew his name) – we just called him “The dad who drinks” when he came in The White Hart . These photos remind me so much of when I first came to work in Tower Hamlets, thanks for the memories.

  6. March 5, 2021

    Love these photos, my time! What happend to Beaseley and his ‘English Reastaurant’?

  7. Akkers permalink
    March 5, 2021

    Good photos – a nice reminder of the 80s. Be good to see some more

  8. David Victor Green permalink
    March 5, 2021

    There’s a great book to be made here

  9. John Fletcher permalink
    March 7, 2021

    What a wonderful legacy for you your friends and Brick Lane

  10. Mafijur Rab permalink
    February 20, 2024

    Nice to see few of Raju’s photographic work.

    Raju should upload more photos.

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