Imagine, working in a building that survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. That is what I did for nearly five years after leaving school. On the ground floor was a restaurant called ‘The Wig and Pen Club’ which was frequented by lawyers, the building is opposite the Law Courts and journalists who worked in nearby Fleet Street. The stair cases were one-person wide and to be frank, it was a pretty miserable and dingy place to work.
So, what has this got to do with photography? Well, if truth be told, not much but there is a connection. Much of my photography happens in and around Brick Lane, an ancient thoroughfare with more than its fair share of history. After the Great Fire destroyed many of the wooden houses in the City of London, the demand for bricks increased substantially and where better to meet that demand than the nearby clay fields around our now appropriately named street?
In the past, photographers were drawn to the area by the character of the surroundings and that of the people. Horace Warner a Quaker, portrayed the lives of children who spent a great deal of their time on the streets and around the alleys that abounded around Brick Lane more than 100 years ago. Since Warner’s time there has been a constant procession of photographers, the likes of Marketa Luscakova, John Claridge, Steven Berkoff, Colin O’Brien, Phil Maxwell and many, many more.
Renowned for its scope for colourful imagery, Brick Lane is still a magnet for photographers, I often see them. Groups of young students who have been wound up by their tutors to capture the magic and easy-to -spot, white, middle-aged photographers, cameras slung around their neck, looking for that decisive moment. It isn’t easy, gentrification has already taken its toll and the pace is quickening with the arrival of big brand names such as Subway and the large coffee bar chains.
New characters attracted by the buzz that still exists, are more transient than in the past and one has to work harder to find them. The answer it appears to me is to get under the skin of the place, talk to people, go back and say hello. If your paths cross, don’t take a picture, have a conversation, the next time around maybe the best opportunity.
I don't know if I will meet the young man pictured here again, he is a tattoo artist so it’s possible. It was a pleasure meeting him and his lovely girlfriend – On Brick Lane.