by Ana M.
David Bailey’s latest effort didn’t just winningly depict an East End of London most living in the capital today haven’t known, it also turned out a timely occasion to reassess the photographer’s definite influence
on popular culture. Truly, this is the Bailey England holds a national treasure, the man whose Vogue shots and distinctive flair in portraying iconic personalities in the 1960s indisputably affected fashion photography and mostly defined the era’s ‘Swinging London’. A name so prominent in British arts was potentially enough to attract adequate attention by itself but Bailey still wholly played the game, gracing the columns of every major national paper with his famed straight-talk, peppered with anecdotes on the hazardous East End he grew up in.
An inspired mix of spontaneous and prepared scenes, David Bailey’s East End fittingly starts in the early 60s with black-and-white images of a city still largely bearing its post-war marks. It also allows a rare glimpse of a multiculturalism already present at the time. Here the portraits are of anonymous faces, excepting those of model Jean Shrimpton, Bailey’s original muse, and the Kray Twins, the notoriously criminal East End siblings who violently ruled their neighbourhood before being sentenced to life imprisonment in 1969.
The second part of the collection brings us straight into the 80s, where London has positively become more identifiable. The lighter atmosphere is tangibly felt, too, despite black-and-white still being used for most pictures. Everything is sleeker, brighter, mirroring the positivism of the decade, which was probably an effect of the times rather than Bailey’s intention. The series also features shots of another of the artist’s muses, his wife Catherine, which captures rather well the artistic freedom and cultural shift of the 80s and serve as a perfect transition into the last period showcased, the 00s.
We are led through just a few photographs into what is today’s East End, colourful, live, mostly deprived, as culturally and ethnically diverse as London can be. Here everyone, not just East Enders, should be familiar with every bit – the animated streets, the churches, the saris, and for one the recognisable naturalness of each photograph… More than just Bailey’s East End, this is Bailey’s London.
David Bailey’s East End is part of Create 2012 summer program, and continues at Compressor House, Royal Docks, Dockside Road, Newham, London E16 2QD until August 5. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11am-7pm (until 9.30pm on Thursdays and Fridays). Entry is £4-£6 or free for Newham residents with approved forms of ID.