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Dragan Novaković’s Brick Lane

January 11, 2024
by the gentle author

These Brick Lane photographs from the late seventies by Dragan Novaković. 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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11 Responses leave one →
  1. Julie Jordan permalink
    January 11, 2024

    Fabulous photos, thnak you!

  2. Andy permalink
    January 11, 2024

    The photographs are entirely brilliant .
    Ironically , all this is gone , and this market is no more like this .
    Just a yuppified food playground .
    This was my home and I feel bereft seeing these photos .

  3. joseph permalink
    January 11, 2024

    These have a rare intimacy

  4. Geoff P permalink
    January 11, 2024

    Some of the men look well turned-out. Suits, ties, shiny shoes and of course hats. Sunday best, I’m guessing.

  5. Mark permalink
    January 11, 2024

    Fascinating photos
    By christ, has working class life in this fetid Isle ever been anything other than third world. Curses on our leaders!

  6. Cherub permalink
    January 12, 2024

    I am glad I didn’t grow up in an inner city when I see photos like these. I grew up in a Scottish mining community and didn’t see poverty like this.

  7. Cherub permalink
    January 12, 2024

    Some real characters in these photos, but also a lot of poverty. I love the sign that says “Vaseline Hair Cream For That Just Combed Look”. Reminds me of my dad arranging his Bobby Charlton hairstyle before going out to the pub well dressed on a Saturday night 🙂

  8. Jen Hepburn permalink
    January 12, 2024

    Older men always wore suits and polished their shoes everyday. There were no trainers or leisure wear. Reminds me of my dad growing up in Liverpool.
    I agree with Mark, a curse on your leaders. I’ve moved to Canada – less of a class system.

  9. Ian Silverton permalink
    January 12, 2024

    Happy New Year GA, pictures of my past life in Bethnal Green, have seen some familiar faces from my past life there. We where all so poor then, but
    don’t think we thought that much about it. Take Care all ex Eastenders. Ian Silverton

  10. Claire D permalink
    January 13, 2024

    There is real tangible poverty as seen here, making ends meet, getting enough to eat, and now there’s poverty of the spirit, we seem to have gone from one to the other.
    How lucky we are to have photos like these as a record.

  11. Christine permalink
    January 16, 2024

    Lovely photos but I always get a sense of sadness…of days gone by and will never been seen again

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