Back to work, back to East London….

Posted on July 4, 2014


It has been a while since I have posted to the blog. I have not stopped working on my OCA YOP course but have certainly slowed down whilst I have been on my travels and have been preparing for the upcoming exhibition in Sheffield, which is now going to run until the end of July… We are installing the photographs this weekend. Fingers crossed that all goes well for this.

I have been re-crafting my statement for Lifting the Curtain which now reads as follows:

For some time I have been fascinated by the urban landscape of East London. It is a rich blend of old and new and has been a site of constant change for hundreds of years – change driven by industrial growth and decline, waves of immigration, wartime devastation, and more recently postindustrial redevelopment and gentrification.  

My interest in East London led me to Charles Booth’s 1889 socio-cultural survey. Booth’s view was that ‘East London lay hidden from view behind a curtain on which were painted terrible pictures’. The mythology of the place overwhelmed the reality. His mission was to lift the curtain and reveal the truth about the place. His work provides vivid descriptions of life in East London at that time. 

Booth’s survey raised questions in my mind about the relationship between place, memory and the passage of time and how photography can mediate within this space. What, if anything, can a photograph of a modern day place can tell us about what happened there in Booth’s time? 

Lifting the Curtain explores this question through a series of photographs and associated texts. The photographs are of modern day urban landscapes. They were made at dawn, dusk and at nighttime when there were no people around, focusing attention on the places themselves and adding to their psychological charge. The texts are narrative extracts from Booth’s survey that describe events, which took place at these sites. In a sense I am using Booth’s survey to lift the curtain on modern day facades to reveal their history. 

The scenes in the photographs show few traces of the past events that Booth witnessed. So rather than anchoring the meaning, the texts complement and enhance the visual messages of the photographs. The viewer is encouraged to draw on image and text, and their knowledge, imagination and memory to explore a wider field of connotative meaning for the work. 

Juxtaposing images of modern day scenes with historic texts draws attention to the passage of time and the transience of existence. The absence of people and deep shadows in the photographs serve as metaphors for mortality and reinforce the theme of transience – a theme that pervades the history of London’s East End.

I have also been out again shooting around the Hoxton/Shoreditch area. I made three new image/text panels.

Hoxton Square, July 2014 ©Keith Greenough 2014

Hoxton Square, July 2014
©Keith Greenough 2014

Pitfield Street, July 2014 Keith Greenough 2014

Pitfield Street, July 2014
Keith Greenough 2014

Sclater Street, July 2014 Keith Greenough 2014

Sclater Street, July 2014
Keith Greenough 2014

I am also now starting to contact people at Toynbee Hall with a view to trying to work with them to stage an exhibition. I have refreshed my contact with Jeremy Freedman a Spitalfields photographer who knows the people at Toynbee well. The exhibition would be a fundraiser for them and a way of showcasing my work. It will probably take the form of a pop-up gallery exhibition. The detail of this is yet to evolve fully but I am thinking in terms of a set of prints, with sales of posters and a soft backed book. I would use the posters to advertise the exhibition also.

I now have 13 image/text panels that I am happy with and I have identified another eight locations (with associated texts). I will press on with the photographic work over the next couple of months. The subjects covered in these image/text panels are wide ranging and include: poverty, religion, the sweated trades, the docks, the furniture trade, factory workers, leisure interests (theatre, bird fanciers, boxing, strolling), drug use, drink, education and mission work, immigrants/newcomers, overcrowding, model housing and police corruption. They also range geographically across the span of coverage of Volume One of Booth’s Survey which dealt with East London.