Croquet, Hurlingham Club, 1980. © Dmitri Kasterine.
This week, The London Column is featuring the work of Dmitri Kasterine. Before leaving London for New York thirty years ago, Kasterine was a sympathetic and perceptive commentator on the English scene: his portraits of artists and writers (including Samuel Beckett, Graham Greene, Tom Stoppard, etc.) are familiar and definitive images for posterity – and his social documentary work, which we are showing, is impeccably witty and elegant.
In this photograph, we see a croquet player in a shortie raincoat (clothes are important in Kasterine’s pictures) braving inclement weather to play against – whom? The field is empty, autumn leaves strewn across the lawn; summer is over, the spectators have left, hours or possibly days earlier. His grip on the mallet is assured yet faintly desperate. He is playing against himself and no-one cares – except the photographer. This is croquet transformed into an existential game – or, perhaps, a nightmare from an H.M. Bateman cartoon: The Man Who Played Croquet After the Pleasure Garden Had Shut. D.S.
Jumble sale, Dulwich, circa 1980. Photo © Homer Sykes/Photoshelter.
Make Do and Mend
Between The Buttons: What Mothers Can Do To Save Buying New. (I got up so late I only had time to put on me flippin’ slacks )
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags (Our backs were covered up, more or less, but the other way round was a big success). But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment.
Recycled Clothing Sculpture Making Project: My shirts are made from Mum’s old drawers.
It depends how many boots he’s got to mend. I brought him home six and a half pairs today.
The handbags and the gladrags: These fragments I have shored against my ruins
(Taken from: Gert & Daisy; The Rag Trade; Make Do And Mend; Thomas Hood; Matthew, xi 7; The Goon Show; The Rolling Stones; Steptoe & Son; Rod Stewart; T. S. Eliot)
John Londei writes:
This was a hard shot to take; full of problems, with torrential rain, gale force winds and hardly any light.
Eddie Schloss had just seen off a difficult customer. ”They all come here telling me the same thing was offered up the road for half the price, ‘So why didn’t you buy it?’ I tell them.”
Eddie’s father, Samuel, was a Polish immigrant who settled in the East End of London and opened this shop, near Petticoat Lane market, in 1928. Eddie, his only son, left school at fifteen to work for his father. “He was a wonderful man. A true gentleman. Very fair. A good father, by God. I respected him. I loved him deeply. If my father were alive today I’d be the happiest person.”
Eddie joined the RAF and remained in the service for many years. “They allowed me compassionate leave, as my father had been taken bad. He couldn’t do it anymore. What with it being a family business, they gave me leave to come out. I took over here. I wasn’t cut out for this work. I wanted to be a doctor. Medical matters always fascinated me. I began studying it at school, but my education was wasted. But you need a different kind of patience for this work.”
Eddie didn’t seem interested having his picture taken, and it took a lot of persuading until he finally agreed. I don’t know what he was thinking as he watched us battle with the elements trying to set up the plate camera.
”Art. You’re probably doing it for art. I respect that. But I’ve got enough problems without art as well. Be honest with yourself, do I need it? I’ve got enough problems without you. I respect you as human beings. You’re wasting your time, but be my guest. But don’t expect me to spend any time on it. When I was younger I might have been impressed.
“ I would be happy to have a copy of the photo when it’s done. I won’t be impressed. I’m too old for that, but I’ll see what my wife thinks. God bless you – if your art gives you only half the problems I’ve had, you’ll have had enough.”
John Londei’s book Shutting Up Shop: the decline of the traditional small shop is published by Dewi Lewis.