David Granick: The East End in Colour, 1960-1980 / Reviewed by Andreia Alves de Oliveira / 27.03.18
A photography exhibition by a skilful (self-declared) amateur taking place in a non-arts dedicated council venue is currently making headlines in the press in London. On show are photographs of a part of the city which is not commonly featured in tourist postcards, taken at a time when the area was still suffering the consequences of the German bombardments that almost destroyed its grim rows of working class households, sweatshops and factories.
The other reason for the generalised media attention is that most lens-based records of London’s East End – and there are many – are black and white. The photographs in exhibition now – shown for the first time as prints – have all been diligently shot with (colour) transparency film: Fujichrome, Kodachrome, Agfacolor, as evidenced by the film boxes and the slide holders also on display. The palette of “glorious” (British Journal of Photography), “brilliant” (Time Out), “faded” (The Guardian) colours re-presents the East End differently, creating a heightened sense of realism to contemporary eyes, now fully used to seeing documentary photography in colour, while simultaneously and paradoxically undoing such reality effect by contradicting the viewer’s own sense of realism (which corresponds to the ingrained image of the East End in black and white). The period hues of the photographs – saturated and displaying a cyan or magenta colour cast – further complicate the relation to time: what does this code signify? When was it that photographs (and, for the photography realists, reality itself) looked like this? Certainly not after the advent of the crisp, cold, digital image, now made pervasive through the widespread use of camera phones, that by default create our sense of what the photographed world looks like.
Differently also from more widespread representations of the area, the focus of the photographs is on the streets, though not to show the (stereo)typical lively East Enders, but the streets themselves. The space, in particular the changing urban space, is the subject of these images. Shot mostly from a pedestrain’s position, they meticulously describe the look of the streets, still unencumbered by cars, and the buildings that flanked them in all their detail: brown brick terraced houses, some of them crumbling, shop fronts with wordy signs, pubs, (few) institutional buildings, piles of rubble, new tower blocks going up. Street photography meets topography in this methodical work produced by a local resident and member of the East London History Society, who used the images to illustrate his talks on local history themes.
Granick’s archive has now been brought to life in a modest exhibition not designed for the art crowds, that invites locals to write their recollections of the places shown in the photographs on the prints themselves, a wide margin having been left blank for that purpose. Maintaining the spirit in which the images were used by their author, a projection of about 80 slides is on display inside a makeshift dark room, and it is here, lit and enlarged, that the illusion of the past captured truly comes to life.
– reviewed by Andreia Alves de Oliveira
David Granick: The East End in Colour, 1960-1980 continues at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, London, until 3 May 2018. (Below: installation views)