Marketa Luskacova’s street music.

ml-musicians-2Portobello Rd., 1978.

From London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851: Concerning street musicians, they are of multifarious classes. As a general rule, they may almost be divided into the tolerable and the intolerable performers, some of them trusting to their skill in music for the reward for their exertions, others only making a noise, so that whatever money they obtain is given to them merely as an inducement for them to depart.

We’ve had the pleasure of showing Marketa’s photographs of London on these pages before, and the pictures on here today are from her new book To Remember — London Street Musicians 1975–1990. This volume draws on Marketa’s intimacy with east and west London, as almost all the images are from the street markets around Brick Lane or those of the Portobello Rd..

ml-musicians-5Cheshire St., 1978.

Marketa is photographic royalty, a point emphasized by a couple of contributions to the new collection by two of her admirers. Shortly before he died, John Berger wrote the book’s foreword; and, opposite the dedication page, is a 1978 photo of Marketa and her young son Matthew travelling on a bus, an image by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

ml-musicians-4Cheshire St., 1982.

The world Marketa documented has to a large extent disappeared; apart from anything else, both east and west London have been transformed by gentrification and ‘social cleansing’. Some of the street performers in her pictures look as if they might be illustrations out of Mayhew’s 1850 accounts of London street types; these photographs have a timeless quality. Ironically, the pictures that seem slightly tied to period are the ones of younger, ‘alternative’ street performers, a phenomenon indelibly associated with the 1970s and 1980s.

ml-musicians-8Covent Garden, 1978.

As I’ve said before, Marketa has an amazing gift for empathy and an ability to get inside a situation without imposing her presence on it. It is clear that she knew many of these performers very well; and if you look carefully, you can see the infant Matthew in a couple of the pictures, his presence a reminder that Marketa had to keep her eye on him as well as the musicians she was photographing. This is photography as a way of life, as a way of being. She was meeting the street performers on an equal footing; she was as much a part of their landscape as they were of hers.

ml-musicians-6Portobello Rd., 1975.

You don’t need me to tell you how moving these photographs are. In the previous entry we devoted to Marketa I wrote about her astonishing picture of a man singing in the street, which for me is one of the greatest photographs of a performer made by anyone anywhere. A few of the street musicians in her photos have clearly lost hope; but it is the images of those giving their all that are the most poignant. I have no idea whether ‘Caruso’ in the image at the top of this page was a good turn or not – but on the basis of this picture I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. If anyone was ever prepared to ‘fail better’ it had to be him. (I am also, inevitably, reminded of this famous recording which has at its heart the song of a homeless man on a London street.)

ml-musicians-3Notting Hill Gate Underground, 1975.

 

ml-musician-1Bacon St., 1977.

 

ml-musicians-7Portobello Rd., 1977.

You can buy Marketa’s book at a few good bookshops (Whitechapel Gallery Bookshop, The Photographers’ Gallery, Camden Arts Centre, London Review of Books, Koenig Books Charing Cross Rd., Pages of Hackney, Donlon Books, Burley Fisher Books, Book and Kitchen, De La Warr Pavilion Bexhill-on-Sea) … or direct from Marketa herself.

marketaluskacova.com

All photos © Marketa Luskacova.

To launch To Remember, Marketa will be discussing her work with Andrew Dempsey on Monday 13 February at Leila’s Shop, 15–17 Calvert Avenue, London E2 7JP. From 6.30 pm.. To reserve a seat (recommended) email info@leilasshop.com.

See also: The Lost London of Marketa Luskacova, The London Nobody Knows (revisited).


White Bicycles.

white-bike-2

N16. © David Secombe.

Christopher Reid:

White Bicycles

In London these days, a not uncommon sight,
but something Mexican-macabre about it all the same:
lashed to a post, or to railings, a bicycle painted entirely white –
white handlebars and frame,
white gears, brakes, wheels, spokes, pedals and chain –
and decked with florists’ bunches, satin-bowed and in cellophane.
There may be cards and messages as well. Toys, too.
Often a doll or a teddy.
But it’s the white that’s so striking. What does it mean to you?
Ghostliness? A skeleton? A bicycle being skeletal already…

Oh, get over it, it’s the vernacular now; and what’s not to like
about ‘Out with the whited sepulchre! In with the whited bike!’?

Christopher Reid, © 2016


The Day They Left.

Surrey Steps, off Strand Lane, north of the Embankment, November 2014.

Surrey Steps, off Strand Lane, north of the Embankment, November 2014.

… by Tim Wells:

The first thing I noticed was that the beigels had gone

and there was a run on fried egg sandwiches.

Katie Hopkins became a nice person.

The free newspaper on the bus had actual news in it.

It turned out there actually was £350 million for the NHS.

Farage said he’d buy those of us left a pint,

which was fortuitous ‘cos Wetherspoons had cut their prices.

No more forelock tugging for us, Squire,

‘cos what with all the empty houses

each and every one of us got a luxury flat,

each of which came with a rent cap.

The radio could have been better. They’d decided no Kate Bush,

no P.J Harvey but there was a hell of a lot of Coldplay.

Employment was a doddle. I’d always wanted to be a doctor,

or a plumber, or have me very own fish and chip shop,

and these days all the education was free so it was

certificates all round. Gilt edged ones with a crinkle cut at that!

At the job my working day had been halved, pay doubled,

holidays extended. The light began to dawn.

© Tim Wells. Written after the United Voices of the World picket of 100 Wood Street, 29 June 2016.

Photo © David Secombe.

Hawksmoor and the city.

Christchurch and Spitalfields Market, 1990

Christ Church Spitalfields from Brushfield St., 1990. (This and all photos on this page © David Secombe.)

Owen Hopkins:

Ever since they began to rise over London just over 300 years ago, the churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor (1662–1736) have had an ambiguous – even paradoxical – relationship to the city that made them and which they have in turn remade. On the one hand, the churches of St Anne, Limehouse, Christ Church, Spitalfields and St George-in-the-East in the old parish of Stepney, St. Alfege in Greenwich, St Mary Woolnoth in the City of London and St George, Bloomsbury are inextricably bound up with the history of London. On the other, they stand apart, somehow belonging to a rather different time and place, almost as fragments of Ancient Rome transplanted into London.

St Alfege Greenwich, London, 1988.St Alfege, Greenwich, 1988.

To understand Hawksmoor’s churches and their relationship to the city, one has to go back to the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666. Even as the fire still smouldered, Hawksmoor’s later master, Christopher Wren, was working up a plan for London’s rebuilding that would replace its narrow and irregular medieval streets with grand boulevards. Most importantly, and taking direct inspiration from what he had learned in Paris the year before, Wren’s plan would have imposed a clear spatial order and control on the dangerous and unruly metropolis.

Hawksmoor’s approach to city planning was different. Hawksmoor never created a plan for London in the way his master had done, but he did produce (unbuilt) designs for re-planning Oxford and Cambridge, and parts of London around St Paul’s Cathedral, Greenwich, and Westminster. The easiest way to understand how these would have worked is to look to contemporary landscape gardens: manufactured landscapes littered with classically-inspired temples and follies, structures that dominate the vistas and embody the estate owner’s authority.

St George in the East, Wapping, 2010St George-in-the-East, Wapping, 2010.

Similarly, in Hawksmoor’s idea of the city, spatial order and control extended not from the street layout, but from monumental buildings that would physically dominate their surroundings. In all Hawksmoor city plans we see a recurring strategy of clearing the areas around important buildings – both old and new – so that they might express their spatial dominion over the surrounding cityscape. What happened in between was of far less importance. It’s hard to imagine the effect of these unbuilt plans when described in the abstract, but to see their principles in action we only need look as far as Hawksmoor’s churches.

St. Luke's Old St., London; photo taken in 1988, before its restSt Luke’s Old St. (Hawksmoor & John James), photographed before its 21st century restoration, 1988.

Even now, the areas around Hawksmoor’s three churches in the old parish of Stepney still retain the ‘edge-lands’ feel they must have had when they first grew up in the decades following the Great Fire. Today that energy is manifested in the clash of different cultures and economies as the City of London encroaches on East End communities. In the early eighteenth century the energy arose through the rise of dissenting religious groups, outside the orbit of central Anglican control, with all the social and political ramifications that that held. As a result, Hawksmoor’s churches were conceived from the off as outlying beacons of the city’s spiritual and political centre – monuments of state and Church authority in areas that had none.

Bank tube & St Mary Woolnoth, 1988Entrance to Bank tube station showing part of the crypt of St Mary Woolnoth, City of London, 1988.

All three of Hawksmoor’s Stepney churches are colossal structures, deliberately sited to be seen in the round, that dominate their environment by sheer scale. Not surprisingly, their overbearing size has played a part in their subsequent neglect. In a 1975 letter to The Times, the then Bishop of Stepney, Trevor Huddlestone, was at great pains ‘to make it clear that the state of disrepair of Christchurch, Spitalfields is in no sense due to the failure of the local Christian community, nor, in my opinion, to neglect by the authorities of the Church of England’. Such a building of ‘cathedral-like proportions’ was, he argued, an ‘appalling responsibility for the Church’.

In addition to their size, Hawksmoor was able to make his churches stand out by his choice of material: white Portland stone, as opposed to the red brick of the surrounding city. Hawksmoor’s churches appear as if fully formed from a single gigantic block of stone. There’s the sense that this is the form the stone wants to be – a testament to their design, the final and most enduring aspect of their differentiation from the surrounding city.

St. Anne's LimehouseSt Anne’s Limehouse, 2010.

Having risen up through Wren’s office in the 1680s and 90s, by the beginning of the eighteenth century Hawksmoor was arguably the best-trained architect Britain had ever seen. Classical architecture was his intellectual and aesthetic bedrock, but he was also fascinated by Gothic architecture and in particular its origins – as he saw them – in the churches of the early Christians of the near east. Hawksmoor’s genius was to bring all this learning to bear in creating a series of church designs rich in reference, resonance and allusion. The result was a series of buildings in which architecture was taken back to its very origins, with ideas and references built up in complex layers of masonry, imbuing these structures with the authority of the architectural past. This is architecture conceived through a sculptural sensibility to create buildings that speak to us but indirectly: through our senses and our emotions.

St George Bloomsbury, London, 2016St George Bloomsbury, 2016.

There are few buildings in London that look back to the past while at the same time prefigure the future. While part of London’s history, Hawksmoor’s churches exist in the future too, yielding ever more secrets as the city changes around them.

… for The London Column. Owen Hopkins’s book From The Shadows: The Architecture and Afterlife of Nicholas Hawksmoor is published by Reaktion Books.

© Owen Hopkins. All photos © David Secombe.

See also: Bluegate Fields, The London Nobody Knows, Spitalfields market.


The lost London of Marketa Luskacova.

Homeless men, Spitalfields 1975Homeless men, Spitalfields, 1975. © Marketa Luskacova.

Marketa Luskacova is a Czech photographer who has been largely resident in London since the early 1970s. She first made her name in the late 1960s, with a project documenting religious pilgrims in central Europe and a series of photographs of life in Sumiac, a remote village in Slovakia. These images show life rooted in a barely-changed medieval past, the realities of the 20th century banished by the sheer force of history. This subject matter might seem distinctly eastern European; but when she came to live in London in the early 1970s, she brought her unique sensibility (which I would characterize as a balance of grace, empathy and visual power) to the street markets of the east end.

Spitalfields, 1976Spitalfields 1976. © Marketa Luskacova.

This milieu is recognisable to us from Don McCullin’s pictures of down and outs, the footage of drunks in The London Nobody Knows, and from other photographers and film-makers who have covered the same turf: the lost and dispossessed in the dark heart of the east end. But the crucial difference between these familiar images and Marketa’s photographs of the same territory is that she wasn’t there as a social anthropologist with a Leica; she was there to buy food. The traders shown in these photographs were the ones she saw every week; they were her friends. Her pictures might be a document of a time and place, but they are also a memoir of a life.

London street musician, 1979Street musician, 1979. © Marketa Luskacova.

Marketa’s images of London stand as some of the most poetic and heartbreaking photographs ever made of the city. As with all her work, these photographs exhibit an almost supernatural gift for faces. They are also an evocation of a London irretrievably lost to us; these are not scenes you will see in today’s east end. Marketa’s hawkers and street musicians are receding from us, as lost in time as the peasants of pre-industrial Europe. Marketa’s photographs of Whitechapel show a world as remote as the rituals of Sumiac.

Spitalfields 1977Lion cub and greyhound, Spitalfields, 1977. © Marketa Luskacova.

Spitalfields 1977Spitalfields, 1977. © Marketa Luskacova.

Spitalfields, 1975Spitalfields, 1975. © Marketa Luskacova.

Marketa Luskacova’s work has been in some ways neglected in comparison with other photographers of the same generation who have covered the same sorts of material. That said, her work has been widely exhibited and championed by the likes of Roy Strong, Bruce Bernard and John Berger – not to mention erstwhile Magnum colleagues such as Rene Burri, Josef Koudelka, Eve Arnold and Henri Cartier-Bresson, who selected one of her pictures for La Choix d’HCB, an exhibition of his favourite photographs. Her eye is unflinching, but her photographs brim over with feeling that never tips into sentimentality. The final picture here is, for me, one of those photographs which renders any attempt to analyse it utterly trite: I will say that it manages to be as funny as it is sad, and as mysterious as it is beautiful. True greatness.  D.S.

Street singer, Spitalfields, 1982Street singer, Spitalfields, 1982. © Marketa Luskacova.

marketaluskacova.com

 

 


Hoffman at peace.

Street market, Cheshire Street, Tower Hamlets 1981.Street market, Cheshire Street, Tower Hamlets 1981.

As a counterweight to David Hoffman’s images of urban protest which we ran last week, here are a few of David’s pictures of a more peaceful London.  Peaceful and largely vanished … these photographs have an elegiac quality to them, glimpses of a city that seems almost as remote as the one pictured by Thomson or A.L. Coburn. In any case, they require no further comment from me … D.S.

Turkish baths, Clapton, Hackney 1983.Turkish baths, Clapton, Hackney 1983. © David Hoffman.

Street musician, Brick Lane 1978Street musician, Brick Lane, 1978.  © David Hoffman.

Silver Jubilee, Tower Hamlets 1977.Silver Jubilee, Tower Hamlets, 1977.  © David Hoffman.

One Man Band, Brick Lane area, 1984One Man Band, Brick Lane area, 1984. © David Hoffman.

Tea time at an old peoples' club in Tower Hamlets 1975Tea time at an old peoples’ club in Tower Hamlets 1975. © David Hoffman.

As part of East London Photomonth, David’s images are on display until the end of this month at a variety of cafes forming the ‘Roman Road Cafe Crawl’. David’s show at Muxima cafe runs until 27th of November. More details here.


Ten Old Men.

pensioner©DavidSecombeWoolwich. © David Secombe 1998.

 

190ae65e9dc5ace132d2c4282ae14b7eKing’s Cross. © Tim Marshall 2013.

 

Bowls©DavidSecombeFinsbury Circus. © David Secombe 1998.

 

8402dc4edc75ba1455d8ef46a0200b8038 bus. © Tim Marshall 2012.

 

ClaphamClapham Common. © David Secombe 1998.

 

d8234a761aef02bde0bd005b43ae2f2038 bus. © Tim Marshall 2011.

 

Tramp-fire1Spitalfields Market. © David Secombe 1990.

 

98f40c41bb9b0953260eae26302ab291King’s Cross. © Tim Marshall 2013.

 

7a6072a8b39c09733ad2e5f60e7222beKing’s Cross. © Tim Marshall 2013.

 

Victoria Way, Charlton, London, 1998Charlton. © David Secombe 1997.

 

See also: 38 Special, King’s Cross Stories, Underground, OvergroundDeep South London, Spitalfields Market, Park Life, Ten Imperatives.