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John Claridge’s East End Portraits

May 30, 2022
by the gentle author

After seven weeks of sold-out tours, we would like to thank all our guests! We look forward to welcoming more of you in June & July. www.thegentleauthorstours.com

Boy, E7 1961 – “He was the son of  a friend of my father’s – Peter, an electrician who worked down the docks. To find out if anything was live, he’d stick his finger in the socket!”

Eaten up by the consumption of chocolate, this lad is entirely unaware of the close proximity of photographer John Claridge‘s lens. And, judging from the enthusiasm with which he is sticking the chocolate in his mouth, it looks like he took after his father when it came to poking fingers into holes.

These vibrant photographs reveal the range of John’s approaches to portraiture. “Most of the time I ask,” he admitted to me, “and sometimes people ask me to take their pictures, but at other times you just see something and grab it. I’ve no single way of doing it.”

“I talk to them and it is through talking that you can open a door,” he continued, ” if you’ve known someone for a while, it is very different from if they only have ten minutes to give me their soul.  So I never set people up to look foolish, I treat them with dignity because I need to win their trust.”

Offering a variety of moods and contrasted energies, these portraits share a common humanity and tenderness for their subjects. In particular, John’s self-portrait fascinates me. He says he took it in a semi-derelict toilet “for the hell of it,” but, in retrospect, it is emblematic of his extraordinary project – he was a photographer in a world that was spiralling down.

The body of work from which these photos have been selected – of which I have published hundreds in weekly instalments over the last few months – is believed to be the largest collection of images by any single photographer covering this period in the East End. In their quality, their number, and their range, they will come to represent the eye of history – but it makes them especially interesting that they were taken by an insider. When he took these photographs, John Claridge was an East Ender looking at the East End. John was taking portraits of his own people.

Clocking Off, Wapping 1968 – “He was a neighbour and I arranged to meet him down at the warehouse after work.”

Boxer, E16 1969 – “A chap putting on his wraps at Terry Lawless’ gym in Canning Town. I walked in and I was talking to the guys – and I just took the picture.”

Man at Booth House Salvation Army, Whitechapel 1982 – “I printed this picture for the first time the other day. They guy is somewhere else, but I didn’t notice until this week the man with the camera taking the picture on the television.”

Children at the Salvation Army Care Centre,  Whitechapel 1970s – “Some children were permanently in care and others were just there for the day. I can’t tell which these were. People only came in these places if there was a problem, if their dad was in the nick or their mum couldn’t take care of them.”

Worker at the Bell Foundry,  Whitechapel 1982 – “You expect a man who works lugging bells around to be brawnier than this, but he’s got his cardigan on and he looks like a watchmaker.”

Antiques Dealer, E6 1962 – “He sold everything, penny farthings, paintings, cigarette cards … everything. I used to go down there and see him, and have cup of tea and poke around.”

My Dad in the Back Yard, E13 1961 – “He had a deck chair and he sat in the garden with a cup of tea. I said to him, ‘Just sit and don’t do anything,’ and he’d just laugh. Great times! There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about him.”

Mates in Wapping, 1961 – “I think we were going down to the Prospect for a drink. I was seventeen years old, so everyone’s seventeen. It was Sunday and everyone’s got polished shoes. I haven’t been in touch, but they’re still around – I haven’t seen them for years.”

Man and Mannequin, Spitalfields 1965 – “This was just off the market. He’s listening to a portable radio on earphones. It looks like he has a mate with him and their bellies are almost touching.”

Edward and Mrs Simpson,  Spitalfields 1967 – “Another kind of portrait. I love the military jackets for sale and Edward’s got one on, while Wallace is hiding and pointing him out.”

Caretaker at Wilton’s Music Hall, Wapping 1964 – “It said, ‘Please ring for caretaker.’ So I rang for the caretaker. I said, ‘Are you the caretaker?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ So I said, ‘May I take a photo of you?’ and he gave me this lovely smile.”

Self-Portrait, E14 1982 – “It was an old toilet in Poplar, in use but at the end of its day. The mirror was still there. People asked me if I ‘d done self-portraits, so I thought I’d do one down there for the hell of it.”

My Mates, 1961 – “We all went out from the East End for the day somewhere. It might have been Southend, Brighton or Clacton, but I remember it was freezing.”

Man in a Knitted Hat, E17 1964 – “This was at Walthamstow Town Hall. He’d finished his fight, had a shower, put his hat on to keep warm, and we were chatting over a cup of tea. He was a visiting fighter from the States and his shirt says, ‘The Big Apple.'”

Woman in Her Kitchen, E12 1969 – “She had no home and a young family, and was staying in a building that was derelict. The council didn’t want people to use it, so there was barbed wire outside. It was a shelter, and they asked me to go down and take pictures to show how people were living there.”

Tony Moore and Joe Gallagher, Wapping 1970 – “Tony was an ex-heavyweight boxer and Joe was my ex-father-in-law. They look like they’re about to sort somebody out.”

My Friend JB, E14 1972 – “We met when we were both fifteen years old and working at McCann Erickson. We were both Eastenders. He was an incredible designer. He had a wonderful sense of humour. He died of a heart attack. He looked like a villain, and one day we went to New York together, and were in Little Italy in a restaurant, and this guy came in and said, ‘I remember you!’ I said, ‘We’d better get out of this place.'”

My Son, Spitalfields, 1982 – “I went along on a home visit with the Salvation Army and I saw this picture on the sideboard. I said, ‘Is that your son?’ and she said, ‘Yes, he was killed in the war.'”

Headless Bear, E2 1964 – “I just came across it. He had his head burnt off. He was lying there at the edge of a bomb site.”

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

John Claridge’s East End

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 30, 2022

    So glad to hear the tours are going so well!

    I’d be interested to know how many of the participants are fans from the blog and how many are random tourists?

    Keep up the good work…

  2. May 30, 2022

    A magnificent selection of John Claridge’s portraits, explained by himself. From a time when polished shoes were still important. It takes a lot of courage to approach people and photograph them. I was constantly lacking this courage when I took photographs. Unfortunately.

    Nowadays it has become even more difficult because privacy is held in such high regard. And that in times of “smartphones”….

    As a bear expert, I was shocked by the last shot. For the first time ever, I confess: I once “rescued” an old, shaggy bear from a scrap metal container. Since then, it has been sitting on the couch next to my own bear, which is over 60 years old. They are best friends.

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  3. May 30, 2022

    A unique & incredible record of the East End!

  4. Pauline Taylor permalink
    May 30, 2022

    I am always fascinated by John Claridge’s photos and these are no exception, not only does he have an artist’s eye but he is good at psychology as well, well done John Claridge.

  5. Andy.strowman1@gmail.com permalink
    May 30, 2022

    As I remember it.
    I also recall an ex Irish guard who kept the toilets near “The Hayfield.” They were dazzling bright and clean.
    Year 1969 recall.

  6. Andy permalink
    May 30, 2022

    As I remember it.
    I also recall an ex Irish guard who kept the toilets near “The Hayfield.” They were dazzling bright and clean.
    Year 1969 recall.

  7. Cherub permalink
    May 30, 2022

    The image of the lady with the photo of her son killed in the war is very poignant. Such unique images, I especially like the gentleman punching out on the time clock, he has such hard working hands and in some respects reminds me of old miners I knew in my Scottish hometown when I was a child in the 60s.

  8. Mark permalink
    May 30, 2022

    Incomparable.
    Elderly woman with framed photo of Son.
    Flip!

  9. Miriam McDonald permalink
    May 31, 2022

    Thank you for showcasing JC’s images. I love the one of his ex- father in law-the image has that edgy feel of something about to kick off. The poignancy of the steady looks to the camera from some of his subjects makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Ghosts, many of them by now.
    Miriam

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