The East End in Colour
|The East End in Colour, 1960–1980 David Granick, Hoxton Mini Press, 2018, 144 pages, 97 colour plates, hardback.|
This collection of recently discovered photographs is the work of David Granick (1912– 1980), a person hitherto quite unknown in the annals of serious photography. This small volume of his pictures and the exhibition that accompanies the publication will place him among the greats.
The two decades during which he put together this memorial to his native east end of London coincided with the last phase of LS Lowry’s much longer life (1887-1976). By producing stark images of the industrial areas they inhabited, both artists broke new ground, bringing the drab scenery and harshness of life in these completely unfashionable areas into the realm of serious art.
In the aftermath of the bombing and rocket attacks of the second world war, much of London’s east end was reduced to rubble or to buildings scarred beyond reach of reconstruction. When Granick began his records in 1960 some of these ruins still lay abandoned in the side streets, and the first class of his photographs includes a number of these scenes. The post-war era saw a huge loss of population as the Cockneys moved out to new areas being provided in places such as Stevenage and Harlow.
The second class of pictures consists of an endless and painful record of boarded-up rows of late- Georgian or Victorian shops, pubs and houses. For viewers of these pages who do not know the story from London’s recent past, the sets of images here are both graphic and highly informative.
Not all is desolation and decay. The photographs, as in Lowry’s work, also show individuals or crowds going about their daily business: shopping at a market stall, hanging around outside the doors of the pubs that were still in business, drinking tea at a cabbies’ shelter outside a bank or catching red buses, including the fondly remembered Routemasters. Vehicles, fewer then, line the streets or wait in queues or at traffic lights. The car-spotter will have a field day with the Ford Populars and Morris Minors seen here.
A more poignant mood still is struck later. Working, one suspects, in the quietness of Sundays, Granick shows the docks and their barges or steamers in impressionistic scenes of tranquillity, with the soft light reflected in the still water of the Pool of London. Tower Bridge is seen in the first photograph in the book and, looking beyond it to the west, the City’s first skyscrapers make their debut almost timidly on the horizon. In the time since Granick’s death in 1980 this City skyline has been transformed. Elsewhere in the book, the modern tower blocks of housing are seen rising above the zones of clearances or looking over the shoulders of an early-19th-century terrace in the Commercial Road in 1970.
The architectural historian will value the colour recording of the condition of such celebrated streets as those around Spitalfields Market in the 1960s, when still playing host to such businesses as ‘Sydney Young, Furrier’. How many furriers do we still have? Gentrification has come to the rescue of some of this heritage but, for the most part, this small volume is an elegy for a segment of London north of the Thames, and its inhabitants, in its final days.
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