Street Photography In The East End Of London: 1850s To Present Day

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Street Photography In The East End Of London: 1850s To Present Day

This is a sponsored article on behalf of Bishopsgate Institute.

Around the turn of the century in 1900 and afterwards, postcards became a popular and well-used form of communication for many Londoners. They depicted street scenes and iconic images of London’s buildings and environs. This postcard from 1910 shows a Liverpool Street Station unrecognisable to users of its services today.

From fledgling photographers attempting to capture the flourishing docks and shipyards of the Isle of Dogs, to the work of their contemporary counterparts, London's East End has long provided a source of creative inspiration for those looking to capture the life of the city on film. These evocative images tell the story of the everyday Londoner, and make for a fascinating insight into the history of the city.

The Bishopsgate Institute Special Collections and Archives hold more than half a million such images, with a particular emphasis on street photography in the East End. Ranging from the 1850s onwards, these iconic and unique collections of early photography are a must-see for those looking to understand the social and cultural history of the capital and its people.

The collections were started by the Institute's second librarian, Charles W.F. Goss — a collector of the highest order — and they continue to accept images and collections to this day. You can check out a small sample of imagery from the collection below, some of which have been sourced from the most unusual of places, including a set of 1979 US tourist snaps purchased by the Library on eBay.

John Thomson and Adolphe Smith’s 1877 book Street Life in London was one of the first to publish photo documentary of the employment and experiences of everyday Londoners, including this image of a convicts' home in Drury Lane, described in the book as being ‘…frequented by hungry convicts or ticket-of-leave men, who find kindly welcome and may, if they choose, receive wholesome advice from the owner of this strange establishment’.
The Institute holds a collection of over 4,000 glass photographic slides of London covering the period from the 1880s to the 1950s, digitised during a project from 2006 to 2009. This scene from the collection shows a market stall in Hoxton Street, Shoreditch, although the cause of all the attention is not known.
This photo is part of a series of over 20 images taken by Essex studio photographer C. A. Mathew of the streets of Spitalfields in 1912. Although the motives of why he took the photos are of some debate, they remain an important record, documenting this area of London when populated by families and dispelling myths about the levels of poverty in this area of London.
The extensive political and radical collections held at Bishopsgate Institute also contain fine examples of London social life, including this wonderful snap of Labour leader George Lansbury on the campaign trail in Bow in the 1930s.
The images taken by Hungarian photographer László Moholy-Nagy in Mary Benedetta’s 1936 book The Street Markets of London have now become iconic depictions of street life in the capital at the time. Shown here is a rather fine fellow from Petticoat Lane Market.
Dennis Anthony was commissioned to take images of Petticoat Lane Market in the 1960s. His images showing the customers and stall-holders have an almost filmic gaze.
For over 30 years, photographer Phil Maxwell captured the life and residents of Brick Lane and its environs. His archive, consisting of thousands of images, is now held at the Institute and offers an unparalleled record of the area in a period of rapid change.
Between 1990 and 1991, Mark Jackson and Huw Davies decamped to Spitalfields Market to document the workings and characters of the world-famous fruit and vegetable market just as it was about to move to its current home in Hackney Wick. Their legacy of over 5,000 images are now held by the Library.
Here’s Leicester Square in all its neon glory, from a set of 1979 US tourist snaps purchased from eBay.

Bishopsgate Institute is holding an event on Thursday 14 December where you can discover more photos like these, and learn more about the development of street photography in the East End of London. Led by the Institute's Special Collections and Archives Manager, Stefan Dickers, this fascinating talk also offers the opportunity to enjoy a drink in the gorgeous Victorian Library — and perhaps you'll leave with some inspiration for photography of your very own.

Bishopsgate Institute’s new Spring 2018 season of courses and events are now available to book.

Last Updated 12 December 2017