- Text by Niall Flynn
- Photography by David Granick, courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library, Archives
Last year, when photographer Chris Dorley-Brown was invited to examine the Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, he stumbled upon thousands of old colour slides belonging to local, East End photographer David Granick.
Taken between the late 1950s and 1980, the photos – untouched, unseen and unpublished – warmly captured the post-war streets of Stepney, Whitechapel and Spitalfields, at a time when monochromatic depictions were the norm. Galvanised by the discovery, Dorley-Brown registered as a volunteer at the facility and quickly set to work scanning and organising the collection.
“The collection has about 3,000 slides going back to the fifties,” explains Dorley-Brown, “but they have been well preserved. Many had been unseen for fifty years or more.”
The result is The East End in Colour 1960 – 1980, a bittersweet love letter to a bygone London, made up of Granick’s distinctive images. Spanning a period that opens with the post-war boom and concludes with the first signs of Thatcherism, the book, published by Hoxton Mini Press, encapsulates a critical period in the city’s history: a London on the cusp of change.
“The East End is well documented photographically, [but] nearly always in monochrome,” Dorley-Brown continues. “Those images have defined our perspective of the period: stark, foggy and loaded with political agitation and unrest.”
“Granick takes a step back. Shooting in colour, we are presented with a very different matrix of information. Colour does that, it’s a different language. It’s really astonishing how few colour images survive from that era. They have a modern sensibility to them – they are minimal, topographic.”
In his work, Granick – who died in 1980, aged 67 – entangles the old world with the new. From the swaggering vibrancy of the Mile End high street to the distinct loneliness of the docklands, there’s a strength and spirit to the work that illustrates East London as it once was. Through the photos, the East End of then is – for a moment, at least – brought back to life.
“They are the pictures of an insider, with an emotional but reserved response. What he has left is unique: a tribute to a lost paradise.”