East End Prospecting – Working Practice

Posted on May 13, 2014


Thought it would be worthwhile documenting my working practice for prospecting for images in East London.

The first step is desk research. My aim now is to try to get a broad spread of references from Booth’s survey. I would like to include the various industries he reviewed, get a broad geographic  spread and coverage of the different ethnicities (indigenous British as well as immigrant groups). This involves identifying general areas on Booth’s maps and then checking the digitised notebook entries on the on-line reference site at London School of Economics.

For a day’s trip into East London, five or six sites to check out is about right. I set off yesterday with six logged into my notebook. Once at the site I look for the most compelling composition which shows the location in an interesting way. I look for  compositions which include architecture and details from different time periods (old and new is good) and also I look out for visual clues to the historic reference in the modern scene – although I don’t want these to be too obvious.I also need to anticipate where the light will be coming from during dawn, dusk and at night. I have found that sometimes a shot is just not possible if a strong light is too close creating flare. I also need the important elements to be lit. Shooting late at night often means that lights will still be on in the windows of the houses/appartments. Shooting at 4 am street lighting will be available and sometimes office and shop lights are still on.

I use my iPhone to make test shots with an app called Viewfinder Pro. This app enables me to simulate the view using my Phase One medium format camera and different lenses. I have only been using two lenses for the work – an 80mm (50mm 35mm equivalent) and a 45 mm (28mm 35mm equivalent). The 45mm is wider than I would really like but as I often need to adjust the digital images to straighten the verticals shooting a little wider is a good idea.

Here are some examples of locations from yesterday’s reconnoitre. Booth’s texts are in italics.


Sanitary conditions are desirable but not always desired; restrictions as to cleanliness etc are looked on as drawbacks.

This is the image I chose from the alternatives I made. There does not appear to be any offending lights. The buildings are shown well and the new buildings and church in the background adds historical depth. This shot I will try to make in the evening when there are lights on in the flats. You can see from the frame lines on the Viewfinder Pro image that I will probably need the 45 mm lens. My conclusion is that this location is worth a visit.

John Fisher Street Peabody

John Fisher Street Peabody Estate


Cabinet-makers, French-polishers, upholsterers, turners and chair-makers are found at every turn

This is a busy street during the daytime with lost of parked vehicles, but the view from the southern end of the street looking up towards some old buildings which were furniture showrooms in Booth’s day has potential. I will need to reassess the composition on site. During the daytime the motorbikes and the parked van obscure the view. I have in mind keeping the street lamp central in the frame and hope to show both the banner on the building to the right and the wonderful cornice on the old building just left of centre. It is probably a shot which will need an 80mm lens. This is an early morning shot.

Curtain Street Shoreditch

Curtain Street Shoreditch


Then on down between the high dock walls, road littered with peas, heavy carts, great noise, echoing walls…. 

This has potential to be a strong shot. The old text has modern day echoes. It is a shot for the very early morning to avoid traffic. It is difficult to tell how the light will fall at twilight but I have high hopes for this one – sometime hopes are dashed. 80mm lens is the one to use.

Former Dock Entrance under Limehouse Causeway

Former Dock Entrance under Limehouse Causeway

SALTER STREET near Westferry DLR station

Through the shop and into the back room… a low bed, two chinamen smoking opium, a great ticking of clocks…. 

Another shot with great potential. I need to make sure it is sufficiently different from my tunnel shot of Regents Canal…. 45 mm is the right lens, I might need to step back a little to get in more of the DLR station.

Salter Street near Westferry DLR station

Salter Street near Westferry DLR station


In the sixpenny seats I have heard a discussion on Irving’s Faust…

There were many theatres in Shoreditch in Victorian times. The Varieties  was on Pitfield Street. The gothic building to the right of the frame in the image below is the former Passmore Edwards Library. Part of it these days is the Courtyard Theatre….what goes around comes around… This might be an evening shot subject to traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. This way the lights will be on in the buildings in the centre background. 80mm lens.

Pitfield Street Shoreditch

Pitfield Street Shoreditch

The sixth site on Poplar High Street didn’t work out….