East End is a stylish collection of more than 200 black and white photographs that captures all the grit and poverty of post-war East London and turns it into an elegy for a lost world.
Plaistow-born John Claridge, one of the most prolific photographers of the 1960s, had a typical East End childhood, playing in bombsites, boxing and falling asleep to the sounds and lights of the nearby docks.
Claridge knew he wanted to take photographs after seeing a camera at a funfair and took photos everywhere he went – whether it was the docks with his father or the shops on a Saturday with his mother, developing the photos in their outside toilet. The result is an intimate look at the East End through the eyes of one of its own.
The photographs are a glimpse into an East End that is no more. In one picture a horse stands in a field framed by the Truman Brewery in the background, the chimney standing tall in a sky that has no skyscrapers. Others show shops with hand painted signs and broken windows, and a cobbler in his workshop.
The book progresses to show a changing East End. There are building sites and older faces, graffiti on a metal walkway and hollowed out factories, signifying the end of Claridge’s work in the area. As he mentions in the book’s introduction: “My East End was gone…I never expected it to go and then all of a sudden it was gone.”
The photographs rarely show any indication of a specific place such as a street sign – yet it is so distinctly the East End. From misty views of the Thames at dawn to close up portraits of boxers, the location is constantly signposted by the photographer’s familiarity and warmth to his subjects.
East End begins and ends with photographs of London’s docks and wharves, cementing the connection between Claridge’s childhood experiences there and his career: “I used to get up with my dad before he went down the docks…I really wanted to go to sea and see the world, but I did it through people sending me around the world to take photographs.”
East End by John Claridge is published by Spitalfields Life Books. RRP: £25.00. ISBN: 9780957656994