Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee. Stepney, East London 1977 by David Hoffman
I’d only started working full time as a photographer the previous summer. I was getting a little work from the local paper and occasional magazine commissions but mostly I was following my own ideas.
I was living in a fairly derelict squat in Whitechapel, an area of slum housing and street homelessness. The City was demolishing its way eastwards, closing the small shops that had served the area for so long, forcing out the cabinet makers, leather workers, chicken slaughterers, kosher cafés and a host of other now-forgotten trades. I’d been moved on by the bulldozers a few times, the last being from the 17th century Black Lion Yard, once the site of Jonathan Muff’s notorious Molly-house. By the time it was levelled by an uncaring council it had become home to more than a dozen jeweller’s shops, and was renowned as the Hatton Garden of the East End.
I had mixed feelings about covering the Jubilee celebrations. I was fascinated by the traditions and rituals of British life but angered by the money being thrown at lavish state banquets and high-profile celebrations set against the very visible growing poverty and disregard of the vulnerable.
The sudden peppering of the generally tatty East End with a mixture of Union flags, balloons and posters of royalty alternating with ‘Stuff the Stupid Queen’ graffiti was just the kind of contradiction that attracted me.
I had just one camera, a Nikon FTn. I’d scraped together just enough money to get a worn out second-hand 28mm f2 – the worst lens I’ve owned since my 9th birthday present of a 1955 Kodak Duaflex 2. The only thing in its favour was that the vignetting and the flare helped hide how unsharp the corners were. 35mm colour transparency film was pretty rough and, with a useable dynamic range of maybe 6 stops on a good day, exposure was critical. I shot this picture on Ektachrome-X, 64 ASA, an E3 process film which was a bit cheaper than the rather better Kodachrome.
David Hoffman is an independent photographer based in London.
I’ve specialised in photographing social issues since the mid ‘70s, choosing to remain independent, shooting the subjects that I see as important for my own photo library, rather than working to commissions or taking a staff job. My main focus is on the increasingly visible control that the state exerts over our lives and choices. Subjects such as racial and social conflict, policing, homelessness, drugs, poverty and social exclusion have been central to my work.
The inequality that first called me to photography has, despite the efforts of so many activists and organisations, only grown more extreme. Politics and the state are now controlled by a class of wealthy people who are innately unable to grasp the nature of the lives lived by the majority. The shaping of society is almost completely insulated from the efforts of ordinary citizens to influence it. I see photography as one of the few ways to counter this.
Café Royal Books has recently published a box set of six books with my pictures of the East End from the 1970s to the 1990s. Some of those photographs are on show at the moment at the Martin Parr Foundation. I've just finished a 200 page hardback book from my time squatting in Whitechapel in the '70s and '80s with publication scheduled for next year. I had some work in a couple of local exhibitions earlier this month but they've now closed. I'm just beginning work on a book on protest, with luck that could be ready in a couple of years though, as with all my projects, it'll probably take longer.
See more work by David Hoffman