London Looks Melancholy In These B&W Photos From The 70s And 80s

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 11 months ago
London Looks Melancholy In These B&W Photos From The 70s And 80s
a bubble car perched at the side of a suburban street. a kid leans against a lamppost staring at the car
Unrecorded location, 1979

A lone be-hatted man ascending concrete stairs at the South Bank. Long-abandoned railway tracks in Shoreditch, suffocated in shrubbery. A narrow boat slowly sinking in the River Lea. There is a definite sadness to the photography of Berris Conolly.

people hanging out on the sidelines of a football pitch, with high rises looming in the background
Mabley Green and Trowbridge Estate E9, 1985

Moving to London in 1966 aged 18, Conolly became an assistant to various photographers, including John Hedgecoe (who established the Photography Department at the Royal College of Art), and was fascinated with capturing everyday scenes of London — the kind of vignettes most people wouldn't consider pointing a camera at.

A woman pushes a pram beneath a bridge, passing a Times advert for the christening of prince william
Seven Sisters Road N4, 1982

A collection of Conolly's shots appear in the book London 1977-1987 by Berris Conolly, a sombre but humane gallery of works which take us back to a London not all that far in the past, but which often appears somewhat under-appreciated, unloved or slightly gone to seed.

The overgrown tracks at a deserted Shoreditch station
Shoreditch Station E2, 1987

As Geoff Nicholson says in the book's foreword: "The London depicted is not glamorous, but neither is it a city of mean and miserable streets. There is however, I think, a muted overarching melancholy. It’s got something to do with the softness of the light, the general absence of harsh shadows and sharp contrasts."

A bunch of kids on their bmxs at the side of a road on a housing estate
Brooke Road N16, 1983

That's not to say there aren't some images here to put a grin on your face: the posse of kids gathering on their BMXs at a Stoke Newington housing estate is a marvellous capture of childhood, as is the little boy seemingly transfixed by the bubble car parked up on his street.

A man walks up the steps of an otherwise empty south bank
South Bank SE1, 1980

As for that refuse collector with a pair of legs sticking out of his bin; we're not quite sure what to make of that.

A couple on a motorboat, wearing swimwear, glide past a lone house at the water's edge
River Lea E5, 1984

But as Nicholson says: "Yes, these photographs speak for themselves, but sometimes they don’t tell you everything you'd like to know. Life's like that."

A mother sits with a baby on her lap in a chintzy looking pub lounge
Kenton Arms E9, 1986
a refuse collector stands looking at the camera - a pair of (hopefully) mannequin legs stick out of his wheely trolley
Maury Road N16, 1981
A canal boat is half submerged in the water
River Lea E5, 1986

London 1977-1987 by Berris Conolly is published by Hoxton Mini Press, RRP £17.95

Last Updated 29 November 2022