Bailey’s East End

Posted on July 22, 2012


I went along to the David Bailey exhibition at the Compressor House in Newham. I am working on an idea for a long term project which will be about London’s  East End. I am thinking about using project this for my Level 3 Your Own Portfolio course. Bailey’s exhibition offered the opportunity to see a top photographer’s take on the subject I have in mind.

The exhibition presented three sets of Baileys East End photography. The first set from the 60s are 35mm format colour and black and white photographs, which have the feel of street photography.They are rough snapshot type images. I liked them a lot, particularly the black and white images. They are documents of an era no long gone, when the east end was very much a working class area. The hairdo’s, the clothes and the look of the streets all reminded me of my childhood, albeit I grew up in a northern england working class area. Lots of visitors to the exhibition seemed to be locals and they seemed to be loving reminiscing about the past. Even I sensed the amount of change which has taken place. One of Bailey’s photographs is of Christ Church at Spitalfields in 1962. The church is still there today but the buildings around are much changed. In Bailey’s image there are houses to the left with signs which refer to the rag trade and the Jewish community. Today, to the left is the new Spitalfields market and the buildings to the right are these days gentrified. This is my contemporary interpretation of this scene.

Spitalfields by Keith Greenough

Bailey’s second series were are largely urban architectural photographs, recording the demise of London’s Dockland area. Perhaps not surprisingly a couple of fashion shots have found their way into this set. These images are altogether more polished, much sharper and more considered compositions. They are all in black and white, captured with a view camera (lots of detail and horizontal verticals). They are almost devoid of people. Some of the images are very powerful, alluding to the end of London’s docks. This is a photograph of mine showing the docks today.

Royal Victoria Dock 2012 by Keith Greenough

Bailey’s third set of photographs are street photos taken with a digital camera which date from 2004 to 2010. These show the East End today and point to  some of the changes which have taken place, the influx of asian immigrants, gentrification, and the remnants of an industrial past now fast disappearing. I must say that I found this group less engaging – perhaps because the imagery is so much more familiar.

For my own work I have so far concentrated on urban landscape work, but I do plan to introduce some street photography and portraits.

Looking at the exhibition as a whole, I liked the way in which the photographs were displayed – they were mounted on scaffolding in banks around the exhibition space. It gave the presentation a working class feel consistent with the nature of the photographs and Bailey’s roots.

It was also interesting to see how three different sets of photographs shot in different styles worked together to provide a comprehensive view of Bailey’s East End. I got the impression that the styles represented different phases in Bailey’s career. On the downside I got the feeling that the exhibition was pieced together from fragments Bailey had amassed over time rather than it being a premeditated project undertaken over time. It gives the impression of being a  loosely connected set of photographs.

Overall, well worth a visit, and I also got to see another part of the East End. Here  is an article in the Guardian showing some of the photographs.

Silvertown Athena by Keith Greenough