Skip to content

David Hoffman At St Botolph’s In Colour

February 13, 2023
by the gentle author

David Hoffman undertook a significant body of photography documenting the East End in the seventies and eighties that I plan to publish this year as a book entitled, A PLACE TO LIVE, Endurance & Joy in Whitechapel, accompanied by a major photographic exhibition at House of Annetta in Spitalfields.

I believe David’s work is such an important social document, distinguished by its generous humanity and aesthetic flair, that I must publish a collected volume. I have a growing list of supporters for this project now, so if you share my appreciation of David’s photography and might consider supporting this endeavour, please drop me a line at

Contributing Photographer David Hoffman sent me this dramatic set of photographs that he took at the ‘wet shelter’ for homeless people – where alcohol and drugs were permitted – in the crypt of St Botolph’s Church, Aldgate, in the seventies. Readers will recall David’s series of black and white pictures of St Botolph’s shelter that I published last week, recording Rev Malcolm Johnson’s compassionate initiative offering refuge to the dispossessed without distinction.

These colour photographs make a fascinating contrast to the monochrome realism of David’s earlier series, offering a distinctive vision of the same subject that is both more emotive and visceral, yet also more painterly and even lyrical.

“These were shots undertaken as tests as much as documenting the wet crypt. The light was a mix of coloured fluorescent tubes and tungsten bulbs, and the types of film available that were sensitive enough to use in this relatively-dark environment also varied a lot in their sensitivity to different-coloured lighting – all of which made for unpredictable results as I moved around, and the push-processing required gave a lot of grain which cut down the sharpness I could achieve.

In those days, I was keen to show off my technical skills and didn’t really like the effect – so I quickly gave up using colour and returned to black and white. But, looking back at these pictures now, I wonder what I was thinking. I find the colour shifts and graininess quite gorgeous and I regret not taking the idea further.”

– David Hoffman

Photographs copyright © David Hoffman

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Saba permalink
    February 13, 2023

    The color and light are extraordinary. I haven’t seen anything like this. I found the subjects hard to look at in the beginning. Then, I looked directly into their faces and experienced the respect that I profoundly owe to each. Good craftsmanship and commentary.

  2. Andy permalink
    February 13, 2023

    The important thing to realise is these people are real human beings.
    Often, they would be denigrated as not or as inferior.
    Each had a story, each worthy of kindness.

  3. February 13, 2023

    It’s astonishing: the colour makes the scenes seem even more dramatic because they are “closer” to reality. — The book will be a very important and powerful one.

    Love & Peace

  4. Marcia Howard permalink
    February 13, 2023

    These images really moved me

  5. Keith permalink
    February 13, 2023

    It’s sad to see so many homeless people today. There are several homeless people in the two towns close to where i live. There are also a team of beggars operating up and down the stretch of the dual carriageway near to my home. They’re risking their lives walking up and down, crossing back and forth and standing at the traffic lights with paper cups and tapping on car/van windows asking for spare change. More money needs to be given to council boroughs to enable them to give these people a place to live without the need to wander around in all weathers and without a life…. not hotels or hostels… they need practical help as there are many with mental health, alcohol and drug dependancy and abuse in their lives.

  6. Stephen Glover permalink
    February 13, 2023

    Simply stunning.
    Not to mention very moving, faces that could tell athousand tales.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS