Victorian times collides with the modern world the other day when I was walking around Elephant and Castle toward the Imperial War Museum and saw this lovely horse-drawn funeral carriage standing in the bus lane…Reminded me of the photo Maggie Jones shared in her Art Spot interview. Here’s a view of the bus lane horses from the side.
Eight years ago, Maggie Jones left her home in Wales to make a new start in London after a divorce. She was born in Oxford. Four days a week, she works as a nurse in a large general hospital and on her allotment one day. During the other two days, she is traipsing around the streets of London photographing its architecture and capturing its history. A desire to “preserve” these things leads her to take about 200 photos per day, documentary style. She shares a few below.
For this week’s London Art Spot, Maggie also shares a story about meeting a man who was once considered the most dangerous in Britian, talks about her fascination with London’s street signs and doors and tells us about her discovery of a small artists’ colony in near East India Dock.
LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
MJ: London influences me because of it’s history. It’s so deep and interwoven with the streets and buildings it’s impossible not to see and feel it. I always feel that I want to ‘capture’ this history and I can only do that with a camera.
“South Bank street performer. I love the expression of the two children who are listening to every word of the ‘soldier’.”
LLO: Favourite place in London to take your camera and why?
MJ: My favourite place is the East End. I love its grubbiness and lack of pretentiousness. I’m not comfortable in the swanky parts of London; they feel shallow and artificial to me. The East End, particularly Hackney, Brick Lane and the canals have a solid real feel to them. This is where London first acquired its wealth and history. I also think working class people, especially the artisans of the Victorian era are frequently overlooked and forgotten about. An example is Sir Joseph Bazelgette the sewer builder. We hear all about his wonderful achievements but nothing of the vast army of skilled working class men who helped him achieve his goals.
A very old traditional East End funeral on Cable Street. They still take place today.
LLO: Share a photo with a great story behind it and tell us about it.
MJ: Some friends and I went on a self-guided walk showing where the Kray Twins had their adventures in and around Bethnal Green. As we stopped and chatted outside the Repton Boxing Club, where the twins used to train, the door opened and out walked Mad Frankie Fraser! Mad Frankie was a gangster who had been a contemporary of the Krays and was described by two Home Secretaries as the most dangerous man in Britain. He stopped and chatted to us; he was absolutely charming. Frankie was then 84 (April 2009) and told us that he now takes the general public on private tours to his old stomping grounds around the East End in a mini bus for about £45!
Mad Frankie Fraser
LLO: You’ve got 632 photos of London street signs on Flickr. What made you start shooting street signs? Share your favourite one?
MJ: I started taking photos to help me document where I’d taken the pictures, but then I realised that these street names are clues to London’s history. For instance, Old Jewry EC2 is where the first Jews were allocated places to live and Knightrider Street where knights would lead a procession from the Tower to Smithfield. Some of the signs themselves are also very old and are fast disappearing. Some are handmade and hand-painted.
LLO: You also have nearly 700 photos of London street art. Who are your favourite London-based artists?
MJ: I really like Xylo. He always makes intelligent, thoughtful art. He is currently sticking up small plaques of the golden Panamanian frog because it’s an endangered species. He also puts up lots of posters protesting the way we are being observed in London by CCTV. He also has a sticker of the Oyster card marked Voyeur which you can see dotted around in various places. Mike Marcus is another London-based artist I admire. His work is also ‘paste ups’ and is quite controversial. He shows people, mainly naked women wearing gas masks. His work isn’t meant to be seen as sexual – it’s him making a political viewpoint, I think! He also works in Israel and Palestine.
Xylo print near St. Paul’s
LLO: Tell us about your London doors project? What number are you up to now?
MJ: I’m currently up to door number 69. I find doors intriguing because as strangers we are unlikely to know what goes on behind them and, being a nosey person, I find this frustrating so I take a photo instead! I do find the variety of doors interesting. Are they barriers or invitations to congenial welcome? The grand address, of course, has to have a grand door. It usually has an elaborate and unique design. It has also, usually, been made by a craftsman with good quality wood and frequently has a beautiful fanlight too. In contrast some doors are made of plastic, or cheap wood and have a uniform design made to look just like all the neighbours doors. No individually-designed doors for the poor. A person’s class is even reflected in the humble door.
One and a Half
LLO: Best London discovery or most unusual place you’ve visited to take photos?
MJ: That’s easy! It is Trinity Buoy Wharf close to the old East India Dock. It used to be where lightships were fitted out for Trinity Lighthouse Boats. It’s now an artists’ colony. There is a bit of a clue as you walk down the single road to the gates. All the lamp posts have been decorated by artists in a unique way. In the former wharf is a 1940’s American Dining Car which is still used as a cafe. The old workshops are now artists workshops. There’s a sound studio there as well were the owner welcomed me with a lovely cup of tea and told me about the wharf and its inhabitants. There are also some homes which used to be ship containers that have been converted for people to live in. They have little balconies where they park their bicycles.
LLO: Show us your favourite London image you’ve captured so far.
MJ: This is almost impossible for me to answer as I have quite a few favourites, but I am pleased with this one. It’s only the Clock Tower of The Houses of Parliament and it’s quite a corny photo, but it’s an unusual shot and it demonstrates my lateral way of thinking and the different view of the world that I seem to have compared to others. It’s not technically very good, but I’ve never been interested in perfection!
Clock tower from the gutter
For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.