Radiant; The Faces Behind the Period

By Katie Dongworth

The fifties are usually identified by housewives, swing dresses and rock and roll. The sixties are, for many people, sexual liberation and free love. The seventies are long hair and flares. The eighties are perms and power suits. We like to define. And no more so than with the decades of the twentieth century, which have very specific characteristics in our collective, and often overly nostalgic, imagination.

But what about the people behind these characterisations?

Once Upon A Time In Brick Lane by Paul Trevor, Front Cover, Courtesy of Hoxton Mini Press
London Underground: 1970-1980 by Mike Goldwater, Front Cover, Courtesy of Hoxton Mini Press

Paul Trevor’s Once Upon A Time in Brick Lane and Mike Goldwater’s London Underground 1970-1980 both bring the faces of these eras to the forefront. Both publications present photographs, taken in the 1970s and 1980s, that display the humanity of the two decades.

These decades were, arguably, a turning point in British identity. The collapse of the British Empire was now a reality. The Caribbean immigration of the 1950s had brought a new world of art, music, food and fashion. The growing Bangladeshi community in the East End of London brought with them an exciting new food scene. Women were going to work in power suits and second-wave feminism was gaining momentum. Nottinghill Carnival was in full swing and the first UK Pride Protest kicked off in Trafalgar Square in 1971. For the first time in history, London was a truly cosmopolitan city. 

Brick Lane, London E1, 1977, Photo by Paul Trevor
Brick Lane, London E1, 1978, Photo by Paul Trevor

Of course, no time in history is without its darker side. The immigrants invited to this country were met with racism and poverty. Homophobia and sexism had been entwined in the fabric of society for so long, unravelling it seemed nearly impossible. The baby boomer generation, who had no direct memories of the World Wars, were coming of age in a city still ravaged with decades-old damage from the blitz. Terraced houses were being knocked down and replaced with brutalist high rise flats and public facilities were non-existent. As Alan Gilbey notes in his Once Upon A Time In Brick Lane Afterward, the streets of London were “turning corrugated iron grey”.

In the dawn of a new cosmopolitan era, individuals in London faced countless different hardships and, as a result, exhibited incredible resilience. At the same time, however, rebellion, hopefulness and fun-loving spirit was in the air. The people of London brought their own colour to the streets they called home.

Chilton Street, London E2, 1977, Photo by Paul Trevor
Commercial Street, London E1, 1981, Photo by Paul Trevor

Both published by indie publisher, Hoxton Mini Press, Once Upon A Time In Brick Lane and London Underground 1970-1980 capture the multitude of experiences that existed within London.

Paul Trevor’s book is a monochrome masterpiece. Brick Lane has been the centre of cultural diversity in London for centuries: from the settlement of French Huguenots in the 17th century to Irish and Jewish immigration in the 19th century to the expanding Bangladeshi community in the 20th century. Paul Trevor depicts this fascinating clash of cultures, along with many other diverse experiences such as poverty, protests, women going to work and the new generation of children playing in the streets. The book is a true celebration of the power of photography, summed up by Alan Gilbey’s words in the book’s Afterward that with just “a flick of a shutter, at the perfect time, these people live again”.

Sclater Street, London E1, 1975, Photo by Paul Trevor
Cheshire Street, London E2, 1975, Photo by Paul Trevor

The fun-loving and revolutionary spirit of the period was not merely confined to the East End. London Underground 1970-1980 reveals that it spread all over the capital, right down to its roots. The underground was, and still is, a true London treasure. Mike Goldwater captures the rich tapestry of people that passed through this treasured labyrinth every day, further revealing the humanity behind these symbolic decades in history.

Photo by Mike Goldwater
Photo by Mike Goldwater

Like Paul Trevor’s photographs, Mike Goldwater’s black and white images capture the human intimacy and feeling that transcends cultural and historical characterisations. The book reveals the tender kisses goodbye, the apathy of a man finishing his cigarette, the homeless sleeping next to everything they own in the world, the Friday night revellers forgetting about work and the homeward-bound commuters deep in thought. Perhaps about life itself. Perhaps about what they fancy for dinner.

See the resilience, humour, diversity, hope and persistent joyfulness of the faces behind the period in these two beautiful collections. Paul Trevor’s work was published on 3rd October 2019 and Mike Goldwater’s book will be available from 7th November 2019.

Once Upon a Time in Brick Lane by Paul Trevor is published by Hoxton Mini Press

London Underground: 1970-1980 by Mike Goldwater is published by Hoxton Mini Press