Photographing Hackney

Between 2007 and 2011 Chats Palace hosted a series of photography exhibitions which, in their different ways reflect the changing nature of the Hackney landscape and its communities.

Colin O’Brien’s photograph of the ‘woman in summer dress’ walking along Chatsworth Road (1985) was spotted at his Oxo Tower Gallery 2006 show. This fortuitous connection led first to a survey of O’Brien’s classic monochrome images “Five Decades of East London Photography”. Three years later followed his collaboration with journalist Jane Egginton – “The Last of the Real High Streets” –  where they made environmental portraits and collected anecdotal stories from both longstanding and recently established shopkeepers.

Lady in Summer Dress Chatsworth Road 1980's

© Colin O’Brien

Meanwhile the emerging popularity of Flickr brought the work of Alan Denney to a wider audience. Denney has been quietly observing the daily struggles of Hackney’s population for more than 30 years. Following his exhibition at Chats Palace in 2009 he has gone on to pursue projects around the Hasidic community in Stamford Hill, surveyed what he sees as the alarming and metaphorical cracks in many Hackney buildings and is currently collecting images under the title ‘You don’t see feet like that in Mayfair’.

“I didn’t find taking photographs of strangers easy; it never happened, but my fear was that one day someone would take offence and have a go at me. I tried to take photographs of people who were fully absorbed in what they were doing, not responding to me as a stranger pointing a camera at them.”

Berris Conolly left Hackney in the late 80’s vowing never to return, but not until he had surveyed virtually every street in the borough with his bulky Pentax 6×7 camera. The resulting work, self published a few years ago caught the eye of a younger urban photographer Alex Pink, who revisited many of the austere and empty vistas to digitally record how they had developed, or not, in the intervening decades.

‘Hackney revisited’ was shown at Chats Palace in the autumn of 2011.
Biddle Builders Lower Clapton road
Northwold road
© Berris Conolly and Alex Pink

Collectively the concerns of these photographers, both in terms of timescale and subject may be of interest to readers of this blog. You can see more of their work here: Colin O’Brien, Alan Denney,  Berris Conolly, Alex Pink.