Tag Archives: Homerton

Colin O’Brien and Chats Palace

One day in the early 2000’s I was listening to the tale of Magnum’s discovery of the great Chilean photographer Sergio Larrain from a Hackney photo activist and raconteur. I asked if it was possible that any other significant talents or bodies of work from the mid-20th century remained unknown or overlooked? “Highly unlikely in this day and age” came back the reply.

Well since then there has been the unexpected publishing story of the work of Vivian Maier to name but one. I would also suggest that the late recognition of Colin O’Brien, culminating in the summer of 2015 when his book ‘London Life’ was Amazon’s bestseller in photography is another life to celebrate.

I came across Colin and his work a couple of months after the above conversation. Walking along the chilly London South Bank in December 2006 I spotted a huge black and white print of a Morrissey concert in the Oxo Tower Gallery. Once inside the walls were packed with strong classic black and white images of mainly working class life from London and beyond, portrayed in a straightforward and dignified humanist style. Colin was on hand to chat about his work and offered a portfolio of extra prints where I first saw ‘Lady in a summer dress Chatsworth Road 1980’s’. Benjamin the Chemist plus landmark clock and Percy Ingle the baker were all present and correct in the background. I had walked down that street for 20 years. This was by far the best picture I had seen that summed up the atmosphere of unexpected and quiet beauty that pervaded the relative urban backwater of Homerton and Clapton in those days.

Almost exactly a year on in the late autumn of 2007 Colin installed his exhibition ‘Five decades of East London Photography’ around the downstairs corridor and bar area of Chats Palace. He was delighted that I couldn’t spot which of the prints that he presented in monochrome had actually been printed from colour negatives. (A tough challenge to successfully pull off in a darkroom).

Three large images of the Clerkenwell/Farringdon Road junction were placed above the bar. The alcove walls were similarly adorned with big prints, “Comings and goings in Club Row/Brick Lane 1986” and groupings of children from the series “London Fields travellers kids”. The bar pictures were so popular that Colin agreed to leave them in place for a couple of years after the official exhibition closed. Copies of his images became popular leaving presents for Chats Palace Board and Staff members, to the extent that workers joked of dreading being asked which their ‘favourite O’Brien’ might be. Colin found this quite funny. My personal choice was always “Snow scene New Year’s Eve Clerkenwell 1962” with the isolated single figure crossing the deserted street, composed from an elevated position and constructed with strong diagonals.

Three years later Colin was back at Chats Palace with a new group of pictures, this time of Chatsworth Road. “The last of the real high streets” was a joint project with Clapton writer Jane Eggington and comprised of a series of classic environmental portraits of small business shopkeepers from all over the world. Colin created the work on a digital SLR and grappled with his own digital colour management and printout for the first time. Meanwhile Jane produced a series of poignant pen pictures and anecdotal references to further our understanding of the hard slog contribution of these local businesses during a difficult economic era. Once again the exhibition was extremely popular not least amongst the hundreds of newer residents of Homerton and Clapton who found a sense of orientation of place amongst these photo stories.

Colin once mentioned that he had always wanted to exhibit at The Victoria and Albert Museum and in a way he did get to do that when he worked alongside photographer Asya Gefter and I on a schools based outreach project for The Museum of Childhood in 2011. ‘Playing In and Out’ looked at kids play over the decades and Colin got to show a large selection of his archive in a grid formation in the new front extention to the Museum as well as giving a lively interview session with a class of children from a Tower Hamlets Primary school .

In 2015 Colin became a trustee of Chats Palace and this year a small exhibition of his work was installed in the recently refurbished Blue Room on the first floor of Chats Palace where it will stay for the foreseeable future. As with all his work it shows the working class of London in all its multifarious ethnic and cultural, working and non-working forms. Inquisitive, confident and outward looking. A timely and timeless corrective for the caricatures of 2016. Thank you Colin.

Peter Young


Photomonth Events


Photomonth events at Chats Palace


40th anniversary of a Women’s Photographic Collective

Sunday 12th October, 2pm – 5pm


Sierra Exif JPEG

The Hackney Flashers Collective was active as a feminist agitprop group in London from 1974 to 1980. The group produced two photographic/graphic exhibitions on large panels addressing complex ideas about women’s lives as workers and as mothers, inside and outside the home – Women and Work and Who’s Holding the Baby?

To mark the recent launch of the Hackney Flashers website, the group are calling a meeting of the generations: how did they work as a collective in the 1970s? How is the struggle for the most basic of women’s rights being carried on now, forty years later?
A rare chance to see some of the exhibition panels from the time too!


Exhibition ‘Photographer Unknown’


Thursday – Sunday, 12pm – 5pm

A selection from the 40 year old Chats Palace archive portraying Homerton scenes and characters through the ad hoc documentation of a group of voluntary and often uncredited photographers. Portraits range from casual snaps to more formal studies and in passing offer a glimpse of the area, within our living memory.

Photographer unknown grid2

The King, the Mayor and the Community Artist

Martin Goodrich, co-founder of the Free Form Community Arts Trust, speaks here of his understanding of socialism and art; and of his grandfather – Henry Edwin Goodrich – the first Labour councillor and the first Labour MP of Hackney. It so happened that we discovered in the Hackney Archives this digitised silent 16mm footage showing the opening of Nisbet House, in which Henry Goodrich, then Mayor of Hackney, accompanies King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in their tour of the estate (1939). Nisbet House still stands on Homerton High Street across Brooksby’s Walk, a stone’s throw away from Chats Palace.

Part 1: Martin Goodrich speaks of his grandfather, socialism and art

Disclaimer. All reasonable efforts have been made to ascertain the copyright situation with this film but please contact Hackney Archives with any queries or further information.

Part 2: Martin Goodrich on memory and community

Remember remember

“I [Alan Rossiter] came to Hackney to work on Hackney Marsh Adventure Playground which is down at Daubeney Fields, next to Kingsmead Estate, in 1972. It wasn’t too long before we came up with the idea of doing a firework show on Daubeney Fields, which took off great, where you had a cabaret event and the fireworks as a backdrop.

Culturally we were part and parcel of the alternative arts scene of the time, begun with people like Joan Littlewood. People were thinking right, what is my art about? it should be about engaging with people. How do we do that?

So one of the key things was celebration. Another was engagement. When we went on to do the Fun Festivals we would set up meetings in each of the areas like Clapton Park Estate. The number of people involved at that level was quite extrordinary, that’s where we first got in touch with people like Brian Walker, an incredible character…”

It was a good time to be in and around Hackney

Tonight Chats Palace hosts reggae extravaganza celebrating some of the best Queens of Reggae. The Fragile Archivists talked to David Corio about the reggae and blues club scene in the 1970s/80s Hackney.

© David Corio - The Four Aces Club, London 1986

© David Corio – The Four Aces Club, London 1986

David Corio began his professional career in 1978 taking photographs for New Musical Express, followed by The Face, Time Out, and Black Echoes. After a stint as a music writer at City Limits, he worked as a freelance photographer for the Daily Telegraph, The Times, Q, Theatre Royal Stratford, and Greensleeves Records, among others.

“The years since have robbed David’s photos of none of their urgency or elegance and in the instance of fallen stars like Marley, Simone, Fela and Dury, lent them poignancy. The unusual candour of the portraits he produced were a tribute to David’s easy way around people, celebrities or otherwise.”  Neil Spencer, former editor of the NME

Fan at Misty In Roots concert Stockwell, London 1977

© David Corio – Reggae fans, London 1977

You can see David Corio’s photograph of London Reggae fans as part of the current photography exhibition of young people from the Photochats archive at Chats Palace.

for more details and opening hours see “You’re only young once”.