Archiving the East End 620

Cyberbullying, email scams and the frequent inaccuracy of Wikipedia are familiar online hazards, but what about the small matter of headspace?

Certain professions are thrown into confusion in a world where there is infinite space for images and information, where facts (accurate or otherwise) can be accessed at a keyboard’s patter, and where it can at times seem impossible to cope with the sheer possibilities promised by the web.

Journalists are obvious losers in all this, but pity the humble archivist whose tedious world of carefully cataloguing documents and photographs in some fusty, dimly lit storeroom has been rent asunder by the advent of the digital age.

The question of which of the quadzillions of photographs out there to include in the East End Archive, a new and evocatively named repository of photographic images being assembled by a small team from the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, is thus pertinent.

It is addressed thoughtfully in Susan Andrews’ introduction to the various articles in this book, which has been produced as a companion to said archive.

Before we go any further, though, let’s get one thing straight. This ‘archive’ is a website. A website with photos on it. The fact it is described in grandiose academic terms is symptomatic of the excruciatingly ambiguous artist-speak one is frequently forced to endure while reading this book.

Even the sub-title, Imagining the East End, suggests a distinct lack of imagination. But putting this – and cringe-worthy references to Foucauldian discourse – to one side, there are some worthwhile insights contained within its pages.

Nicholas Haeffner has a good riff on ‘fetishised’ images of East End poverty, and there is an interesting interview with Tom Hunter about family photographs that tell affecting stories about memories of life in the utopian Woodberry Down Estate.

There is also interesting discussion of how exactly to define the East End.

But by far the best thing in this book are the photographs, like those from Susan Andrews’ fantastic series Up and Down Whitechapel High Street. Which raises the question of why the authors did not keep their words to a minimum to let the snaps speak for themselves.

Photography, after all, is what their wider project is about.

Archive: Imagining the East End is published by Black Dog Publishing. RRP: £14.95. ISBN: 9781908966377

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