Home Features Street photography in East London’s Brick Lane

Street photography in East London’s Brick Lane

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International artist Nether at work. Leica X Vario

This is the first of two articles illustrating my wanderings over a few months in and around Brick Lane in London.

Brick Lane has been a destination for many years because of its Sunday market and, more recently, it has become a magnet for street photographers attracted by the street art, markets and colourful characters.

This article focuses on the street art; the second will focus on the markets.

East London Line train passing Allen Gardens. Leica X1
East London Line train passing Allen Gardens. Leica X1

I first visited Brick Lane when I worked on the programme management team for the upgrading and extension of the East London Line (ELL) for Transport for London. My work required me to understand the areas through which it would pass and Brick Lane, running close to Shoreditch High Street and Whitechapel, was a convenient place to stop for coffee.

Allen Gardens

My first recent exploration was from Whitechapel and I made my way up through Allen Gardens with the X1 which is my ‘wandering about with a camera in the coat pocket’ choice, intending to do some street photography. The ELL passed by the gardens and crossed over the main railway lines out of Liverpool Street Station on the bridge the upgrade programme had installed. Seeing the woman in her orange sweater — the colour scheme of the ELL — I waited until a train passed.

Allen Gardens triangles. Leica X1
Allen Gardens triangles. Leica X1

Continuing on, the triangles of the bridge’s steel truss girders caught my eye and I wondered if I could make something of them photographically. The zip-wire frame was a nice surprise, giving me two triangles to include in a photo; luckily I didn’t have to wait too long for a third.

Street art discovered

Line of girls, with art by The Line Girl. Leica X1
Line of girls, with art by The Line Girl. Leica X1

In Brick Lane the light on the café window appealed to me and the occupants offered an opportunity to capture both the light and a gesture. I waited until I had something to balance the image. Again, I didn’t have to wait long. The X1, being relatively discreet, helped me avoid being noticed. Only when I got home did my daughter point out the name on the wall – of the street artist called The Line Girl – which seemed appropriate. An internet search showed me that this London artist specialises in, as you can see, paintings with lines.

HAKA Graffiti gives Simon Cowell a makeover. Leica X1
HAKA Graffiti gives Simon Cowell a makeover. Leica X1

Further down the street I saw the street artist HAKA Graffiti at work. To give some background, this was made after the Conservative Party conference in 2018 when the Prime Minister Theresa May made her entrance with a dancing walk. The strange creature to the left was painted by someone else, although the (presumably unintended) juxtaposition amused me.

Nether region

International artist Nether at work. Leica X Vario
International artist Nether at work. Leica X Vario

On another visit, this time with my X Vario, I saw this street artist working on a wall that a few weeks before had been covered in a different picture. It turns out he goes by the name Nether and is from Baltimore in the USA. He was happy to be photographed and I subsequently sent him some photos.

I was intrigued to see that he had carefully planned and prepared a template for his artwork and was painting in accordance with it, his care and concentration showing. I read that he paints about issues in neighbourhoods and assume this focussed on the difficulty of breaking into the London housing market. These artists work internationally and it is obviously a serious business although how they make money from their art is beyond me.

Completed artwork. Leica X Vario
Completed artwork. Leica X Vario

I returned a few days later and saw the completed artwork. Sadly, I also assumed it would be quickly overwritten, probably by more of the meaningless bubbles that are somehow supposed to be art.

Hanbury Street

Hanbury Street street art. Leica X Vario
Hanbury Street street art. Leica X Vario

Hanbury Street, off Brick Lane, is home to a number of interesting paintings. It has a more grisly heritage as Jack the Ripper aficionados will know. Here, at No.29, the body of Annie Chapman was found in September 1888.

While I was there a walking tour arrived with a guide telling his group about the artists. Probably he also mentioned poor Annie. These tours are popular, as are photography workshops. I read that the crane was painted by the artist ROA who was born in Ghent, Belgium, and that the hand-standing man was painted by the Argentinian muralist Martin Ron. If you want to know more about these pictures and artists the web site InspiringCity describes them well.

Street art by BKFOXX. Leica X Vario
Street art by BKFOXX. Leica X Vario

As the signature on the wall shows, this was painted by BKFOXX — initials BK; FOXX as in the animal apparently — from Long Island, New York, in September 2018. The gates to the yard and café were being closed and I noticed the white door in the wall being opened by the man locking up the site which provided an interesting effect. I asked around, found him working in the shop on the corner and asked him for a favour: happily he obliged.

Many faceted

I have tried without success to find out who painted the picture on the other side of the yard but the dog reminded me of Snowy from the TinTin books. Did this show an illicit street artist — TinTin in disguise or another Belgian artist on a trip to London? — caught in a policeman’s torch? Perhaps so, but what scared the dog? I waited until an explanation presented itself. I suppose I should have treated the art with more reverence but I couldn’t resist the opportunity, when it presented itself, to have a bit of fun with the photography.

Unknown artist. Leica X Vario
Unknown artist. Leica X Vario

Brick Lane has many facets and communities living and working in and around and the street-art culture is only one aspect.

Although I have a strong dislike for the bubbles and letters which deface our buildings and infrastructure, I have appreciated and enjoyed the street art that I photographed. Brick Lane and the adjacent streets showcase the best.

I am now looking forward to seeing more in the future, and I’ll try not to be too irreverent next time.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Some wonderful image Kevin, and a nice story of how they came to be. I look forward to seeing what more your archive will produce for us to enjoy.

    Cheers

  2. So cool! The x’s still rule,whatsettingsdo you prefer in b/w or will you have to have me eliminated if you share your secrets. thank you

    • Hi John,
      Thanks. I don’t use particular settings and generally convert the DNG to B&W. Then it’s a matter of processing to get the look I want. The OOC files from the X1 when the JPEGs are set to B&W have a uniquely pleasant look and sometimes I’ll start with them. However I find it difficult (basically impossible) to replicate Leica’s firmware regarding contrast. No need to worry about elimination – I don’t know where you live! Kevin

  3. Hi, I loved the images in this article, particularly the man in the doorway. I live in Canada and to stop graffiti many places have hired talented artists to paint amazing images on buildings and fences because the graffiti people do not tag or touch another’s work. It really has helped clean up a lot of areas.

  4. I very much like the images that home in tight on the main subject like the man painting and the man in the doorway.

    • Thanks Don, as they say it’s not what’s said about one but who says it that’s important and given your experience that means a lot to me. Kevin

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