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Self-Portrait with Keith (standing behind with cigarette), E7 (1961).
“We still meet up for a drink and put the world to rights.”
Here is the young photographer John Claridge at seventeen years of age in 1961, resplendent in a blue suede jacket from Carnaby St worn with a polo neck sweater and pair of Levis, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to the character played by David Hemmings in ‘Blow-Up’ five years later.
On the evidence of this set of photographs alone it is apparent that John loves people, because each picture is the outcome of spending time with someone and records the tender moment of connection that resulted. Every portrait repays attention, since on closer examination each one deepens into a complex range of emotions. In particularly intimate examples – such as Mr Scanlan 1966 and the cheeky lady of 1982 – the human soul before John’s lens appears to shimmer like a candle flame in a haze of emotionalism. The affection that he shows for these people, as one who grew up among them in the East End, colors John’s pictures with genuine sentiment.
Even in those instances – such as the knife grinder in 1963 and the lady on the box in Spitalfields 1966 – in which the picture records a momentary encounter and the subjects retaining a distance from the lens, presenting themselves with a self-effacing dignity, there is an additional tinge of emotionalism. In other pictures – such as the dance poster of 1964 and the windows in E1 of 1966 – John set out to focus on the urban landscape and the human subjects created the photographic moment that he cherished by walking into the frame unexpectedly. From another perspective, seeing the picture of the mannequin in the window, we share John’s emotional double-take on discovering that the female nude which drew his eager gaze is, in fact, a dummy shop.
For John, these photographs are not images of loss but moments of delight, savouring times well spent. If it were not for photography, John might only have flickering memories of the East End in his youth, yet these pictures capture the people that drew his eye and those that he loved half a century ago, fixing their images eternally.
Across the Street, E1 (1982) – “I did a double-take when I first saw this. In fact, it was a mannequin in the window. Still looked good. ”
School Cap, Spitalfields (1963) – “I just found this surreal. It was as if the man behind it was berating a nine-year-old who couldn’t care less. “
Two Friends, Spitalfields (1968) – “They were walking along sharing one piece of bread.”
The Box, Spitalfields (1960) – “I came across this lady sitting on an orange box, there was nothing else around. Then she got up and walked off with her box. ”
Labor Exchange, E13 (1963) – “Never an uncommon sight. ”
Ex-Middleweight Boxer, Cable St (1960) – “We were talking about boxing when he just gave me the thumps-up.”
Knife Grinder, E13 (1966) – “Every few weeks he would appear at the end of the street. Quite a cross-section of people had their knives sharpened! ”
Mr Scanlon, E13 (1966) – “My next door neighbor. Always with a wicked sense of humor and an equally wicked smile. ”
The Doorway, E2 (1962) – “To this day I would still like to know where her thoughts were. ”
Crane Driver, E16 (1975) – “He could balance a crushed car on half a crown and still give you change.”
59 Club, E9 (1973) – “The noise of the pinball machines with the sound of the jukebox playing Jerry Lee.”
A 7/6 Jacket, E13 (1969) – “He had a small shed where he sold anything he could find, which he collected in a small handcart.”
A Portrait, E1 (1982) – “This special lady asked me ‘Why do you want to photograph me?’ I replied ‘Because you look cheeky.’ This is the picture. ”
Scrap Dealer, E16 (1975) – “This was shot in Canning Town, near the Terry Lawless boxing gym.”
The Step, Spitalfields (1963) – “A kid at play.”
Dance Poster, E2 (1964) – “I was taking a picture of the distressed posters when he glided past. ”
The Windows, Spitalfields (1960) – “Behind every window.”
My Mum & Dad, Plaistow (1964) – “Taken in the backyard.”
Fallen Angel, E7 (1960) – “There were a lot of fallen angels in the East End.”
Photographs copyright © John Claridge
You may also like to take a look at
John Claridge’s East End
Along the Thames with John Claridge
At the Salvation Army with John Claridge