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Markéta Luskačová’s Brick Lane Market

April 28, 2024
by the gentle author



Two women with a cigarette, Cheshire St 1977.

When photographer Markéta Luskačová came from Prague in the mid-seventies, it became her great delight to visit the markets in London since they were forbidden under Communist rule in her own country. It was Brick Lane market in particular that took Markéta’s fancy, both as a subject for photography and a source of cheap produce. In fact, such was the enduring nature of her fascination and need, Markéta continued coming to Spitalfields to take photographs and get her weekly supply of fruit and vegetables for over thirty years.

As a young photographer in Czechoslovakia, Markéta went out to visit remote villages which were so poor that the collectivisation imposed elsewhere by the Communists was not viable, and she recorded a way of life barely changed for centuries in breathtakingly beautiful pictures, first exhibited in Prague in 1971 and later shown at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1983. By chance, Markéta’s photographs were seen in Prague by Colin Osman, editor of Creative Camera, who was on a visit from London to attend the opera and he published them in his magazine, drawing international recognition for the quality of her vision.

In London, Markéta showed her work to Norman Hall, the renowned picture editor of The Times  but when she told him she wanted to photograph markets, he dismissed it as “a subject for beginners” yet she set out undiscouraged.

“I went to Brick Lane and I never left. I fell in love with it.” she admitted to me, “Most of all, I photograph things I like and I was lucky enough that somebody saw my work and supported my photography for a little while.”

A year later, Markéta took her photographs of Brick Lane to Norman Hall and, looking at them, he declared, “This may be a subject for a beginner, but it is not a beginner that took these photographs.”

“I was poor,” recalled Markéta, “so I needed to do my shopping there as it was the cheapest place to buy things. I could identify with the people in Brick Lane because they were immigrants and they were in need of cheap goods. Once I had done my shopping, I would leave my bag with a stallholder while I took my photographs.”

In 1991, Markéta had a one woman show at the Whitechapel Gallery of her photographs of Spitalfields, establishing her reputation as a major photographic talent in this country. Those pictures – of which a selection are published here today – were the result of a two-year residency in which she selected from and printed her pictures taken between 1975 and 1990. Yet it is less widely known that these represent only a portion of those Markéta has taken in Brick Lane as result of her long-term relationship with the market which now extends over thirty years.

In particular, Markéta recorded the last days of the ancient market in birds and animals that existed in Sclater St and Club Row until it was closed down in 1990 as a result of protests by animal rights activists. Markéta shared a natural sympathy with the dealers, observing their affection for their charges, unlike the hard-line protestors, one of whom pushed her in front of a car.

Famously, Markéta photographed the sale of a lion cub in Brick Lane. She remembers that it was first offered at £150 and then the price diminished to £100 and finally £75, over successive weeks, as the cub grew and became less cuddly and more threatening. Eventually, the seller came back one Sunday without the lion but clasping a tray of watches that he had swapped the creature for. In Brick Lane, Markéta found her primary subject as a photographer, offering an entire society in realistic detail and a mythological universe of infinite variety.

“I don’t go to Brick Lane regularly anymore, sometimes six months passes between one visit and another” Markéta confided to me,“I photographed what I saw there and what I thought it was good to record, be it a face or a smile, an animal or a shoe. I believe in the evidential quality of photography, and I know that unless things are done in a visually interesting way they are not remembered.”

A woman with a gentle manner and a piercing gaze, Markéta Luskačová’s magnificent photographs reflect her own personality. They are simultaneously generous in their humanity yet unsentimental in revealing the nature of people.

Lion cub and dog, Club Row Market 1977.

Street musician, Cheshire St 1977.

Man selling trousers, Petticoat Lane 1974.

Woman in front of a poster, Bethnal Green Rd 1990.

Woman in the Bird in the Cage pub, Bethnal Green Rd 1976.

Man with a clock, off Cheshire St 1989.

Street musician, Cheshire St 1979.

Man with kitten, 1977.


Girls from Canon Barnett Primary School in the train on their way back from the seaside, 1988.

Woman and child, Sclater St 1976.

Old man and children with donkey, Sclater St 1980.

Photographs copyright © Markéta Luskačová

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    April 28, 2024

    It became a legacy like an addiction to visit there but the Utopia was spoilt as the area became gentrified and now the price of houses is beyond the roof .

  2. April 28, 2024

    Thank you very much for this wonderful report. I have learnt a lot from it. Firstly, that London’s East End has probably been the world’s greatest photographic treasure trove for centuries. Secondly, that as a photographer you sometimes have to wait decades for the world to recognise and appreciate the treasure trove of your own photographic motifs. And thirdly, that Markéta Luskačová is a master of photography who was previously unknown to me. — I researched her at length this morning… (Unfortunately, a sad fact: nowadays you are practically not allowed to photograph children at all).

    By the way: I’ve been taking photographs myself since I was about 12 years old. I’ve more or less accepted the fact that my work will only be recognised after my death. (Unless my long-planned photo book with the Göttingen STEIDL publishing house is realised after all…)

    Love & Peace

  3. C. scofield permalink
    April 28, 2024

    Remarkable and unique photos

  4. April 28, 2024

    Thank you Markéta and the GA for sharing these atmospheric photos. They are almost like art prints.

  5. April 28, 2024

    This morning I was reminded of how many remarkable discoveries I have made, thanks to
    Spitalfields Life. “Life” is an apt word, for this collection today; since this series absolutely throbs with the imperfections and frailties of these observed lives. It is almost as if the photographer has crossed paths with these folks at their MOST fragile moment. The man with the clock? — I gasped when I saw this image. His haggard weary look, the dandy-like clothing, the inexplicable clock, the roofline that arches above him with blank staring windows. Every detail is compelling and quizzical. I wonder if the photographer engaged with this fellow? — Or did she just lift her camera, capture him mid-drama, and move on? I’m enthralled with this mystery.

  6. Marcia Howard permalink
    April 28, 2024

    What an amazing sounding lady, and incredibly moving images captured on film too. I applaud her.

  7. Christine permalink
    April 28, 2024

    Wonderful photos Marketa as she seen life through a lens, in a time gone by! There is a great documentary on Vivian Maiers who did the same thing but in Chicago! She kept her photos in storage and when she became unable to pay the storage fees they went up for auction! So sad as this lady died in poverty but her photos now can fetch thousands of dollars for one photo! If only Marketa could strive to that kind of payment as her photos are superb x

  8. Garrick Davis permalink
    April 29, 2024

    Thank you both for opening my eyes to this powerful work and for the reminder of the wonderful and often moving pageantry of life in our capital’s street markets.

  9. Nicholas Borden permalink
    April 29, 2024

    Really interesting photography

  10. Teresa permalink
    April 30, 2024

    I loved reading the report and the comments. Thanks. I have learned about that photographer i had never heard of before. I love visiting London every year and i am interested in photography but only as a hobby.

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