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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sketchbook, Southbank, 2013 © Thomas Hogan
Lawrence Schimel, Skating Beauty
Like the uninvited
thirteenth fairy at the christening,
I am standing just outside
the place where they’re skating
and I want to curse them
for my not being a part
of such easy youthful
Forget the prick of a finger
on a spinning wheel’s needle,
let them crush their hands
beneath the spinning wheels
of their skateboards!
But I want more than just
belonging; it is you I crave:
a beauty that could exist
only in fairy tale,
where magic or alchemy
transforms a catalogue of parts–
eyes, lips, lithe torso that twists
just so at the waist–into something
wondrous and unique, delicate and fierce,
hovering on that threshold
between boyhood and manhood.
Almost shy when on the ground,
unaware of your own desirability,
your board, tucked under your arm
like a shield, blocks the view of your
naked torso as you constantly shift
position, less nervousness than
restless excess of energy.
Then you mount your board.
Everything changes: you are
a modern-day centaur, board and boy
a single being whose grace
and almost preternatural calm
draws the attention of every eye.
Suddenly you launch into the air
legs bent at the knees. You soar,
your board flying up beneath you
and time stops
…………………………..for a hundred years
with you suspended in this moment
and only a kiss from me
could make it start again.
© Lawrence Schimel.
Lawrence Schimel was born in New York and lives in Madrid where he is a Spanish-English translator. His most recent poetry collection is DELETED NAMES (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013).