A Sort of Home: 1970s Whitechapel – David Hoffman
A Sort of Home: 1970s Whitechapel A personal photojournalistic documentation of life experienced in 1970’s Whitechapel
In the late 1970s and early 1980s when I made these photographs, I was living in a squatted Victorian tenement block, Fieldgate Mansions, in Whitechapel, London.
Frequent homelessness, rotten housing conditions and oppressive housing laws gladly implemented by an uncaring local council all added to a feeling of exclusion among myself and my friends. As Tower Hamlets council ‘decanted’ the old, impoverished residents of Fieldgate Mansions we took over the empty flats and we squatted nearby houses kept empty by owners only interested in their investment potential.
Whitechapel and Spitalfields were very run-down. The area was a magnet for the homeless, the dispossessed, the lost and the angry people struggling to stay afloat in the backwash of Thatcher’s rapidly yuppifying Britain.
In that sink or swim world, the wet crypt at St Botolph’s Church and the, then anarchic and unregulated, Christmas shelter opened by Crisis At Christmas became an essential support for those who were sinking. The swimmers squatted. Fieldgate was populated by artists and mechanics, jewellers and writers, architects, escorts, dealers and photographers. It became a vibrant, self-supporting – and sometimes self-destructive – community.
With almost 200 empty flats and the Bengali community beginning to establish itself in the East End, Fieldgate became a safe, welcoming multicultural and secular neighbourhood. As so many times before, a new population took root as the original squatters moved on.
In 1982 Fieldgate was acquired by a housing association and slowly became more regulated. Rents were imposed and grew higher, some properties were demolished, but squatting saved much of the housing that we see there today.
As the area settled into its next phase, I moved on to photograph other people making their voices heard.
David Hoffman has worked as an independent photojournalist since the 1970s. Supplying media through his photo library, he has always chosen his own subject matter. Driven to document the increasingly overt control of the state over our lives, his work sheds an unforgiving light across racial and social conflict, policing, drug use, poverty and social exclusion. Protest, and the violence that sometimes accompanies it, is a thread that has run through Hoffman’s work, gaining him a reputation as ‘the riot photographer’s riot photographer.’ The same determination and willingness to look uncomfortable realities in the eye are evident in his photographs of homeless people using open and unregulated shelters offering support and respite. Often raw and uncomfortable, Hoffman’s work is both dispassionate documentary and steely social challenge. By engaging with the image, we are forced to recognise the world as others live it and to consider our own position. Working to document the reality of injustice, the frequent oppression of the state and the all too often tragic consequences, Hoffman’s photography has underpinned legal challenges, brought racist perpetrators to justice, and most importantly, reached wide audiences through newspaper publication for more than 40 years.
Exhibition: 18 July – 15 August 2018, 12 – 6pm
Private View: 18 July 2018, 6 – 10pm
Closing early: 4pm on Friday 3rd August
Artist Talks: 21 July 2018, 7 – 10pm
David Hoffman will discuss his work