East End London – some images for discussion at OCA Brighton event

Posted on October 24, 2012


I plan to sign up for my second level 3 course in the new year. I have been continuing to scope out the nature of a major project for this course based on London’s East End. I have been carrying out some exploratory photography in different areas of the East End to clarify my thinking and confirming the potential. And there does seem to be a lot of scope.

I will be attending the Brighton Biennial Photo Festival on 3rd/4th November and the OCA organising team has asked us to pull together some work which we might wish to discuss during the group sessions. The theme of the festival is Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space. 

Given the nature of this theme and the early stage of my thinking with the East End project I thought that I might get the most benefit from preparing myself to talk about my ideas for this project. (I also plan to take some photographs from my Museum project and the I am an Ironman video in case this is felt more appropriate).

My research in London’s East End has been very revealing in the sense of the politics of space. There is no doubt that political intervention has completely changed the nature of the area. Decisions on social housing and benefits have contributed to major demographic shifts in the area. Redevelopment activity has been huge to the extent that little remains of the former place (and its history). Communications have opened up areas which were formally isolated communities, and life in these communities has changed for ever. I hope that my photography might be able to raise questions about some of these issues.

In formulating my project ideas I have identified a number of influences which have moulded the East End. These are summarised in note form below:

  1. Dumping ground, location of unpleasant, smelly and dirty trades serving the City of London.
  2. First port of call for immigrant groups seeking a place to settle  due to low barriers to entry, availability of low skilled work and accommodation…Huguenots, Jews, Bangladeshis.
  3. British working class area based on industry, shipbuilding and associated trades, the docks, seafaring…conflict with immigration.
  4. Early centre for silk weaving, based on immigrant Huguenot skills, mutated into centre for rag trade based on sweat shops.
  5. Small businesses form major part of economy, initially in support of shipbuilding, seafaring, docks, weaving now being replaced by media, retail and other services. There is a sense of entrepreneurialism.
  6. Emigration of white British residents to suburbs and Essex.
  7. Place of political and religious tolerance and activism….home of socialist politics.
  8. The birthplace of theatre and music hall in London… early on there was a relative lack of control and censorship.
  9. Feared as other, mysterious and threatening….as popularised by Victorian crime writers and in novels such as People of the Abyss by Jack London…no go area of prostitutes, thieves, drunks, murderers, opium dens and the like.
  10. Focus for early social reformers…birthplace of Salvation Army, Toynbee Hall, Bishopsgate Institute and many other missions.
  11. Destroyed during WW2…need for regeneration.
  12. Major social housing developments replaced slums in post WW2 period…legacy of low grade social/council housing.
  13. Decline and regeneration….fall of industry, the docks, shipbuilding and rise of services sector, particularly banking, leisure, education
  14. Redevelopment of Docklands largely for housing and upgrade of communication with DLR, City Airport and CrossRail.
  15. Gentrification initially in  areas close to the city….Shoreditch, Wapping, etc…now broadened out following redevelopment of docklands.
  16. Modern day place for artists, photographers and media folk.

Here is a contact sheet for some of the images I have made so far….it is very early days and I have yet to find a way to represent many of the themes raised above. In all probability many of the images below will not make it into my final set…but it is a start.

East End by Keith Greenough