Giorgi’s Cafe, Bethnal Green Road, London, 1971 by Neil Martinson

A photograph of Hackney in the 1970s by Neil Martinson, who has been documenting the area for almost 50 years.

London Photographer Neil Martinson

Neil Martinson was just 17 years old and still at school when he began taking photographs of Hackney, east London, where he was born and raised. “It was 1971. I bought myself a Zenit-E, a Russian-made camera, which was the only one I could afford, and I started to explore the streets, the shops, the factories, the bomb sites,” he recalls. “I was a nervous kid. Being behind the lens made me feel more confident.”

This shy schoolboy soon co-founded a radical photography collective, Hackney Flashers, and went on to take thousands of images of working lives and street scenes in Hackney in the 70s and 80s, many of which can now be seen for the first time at East End gallery Stour Space.

This photograph was taken on Bethnal Green Road on a Sunday, market day at nearby Brick Lane. “Looking at the people, their clothes, those prams, the way they stand, the relationship between them – it could have been taken in the 1950s rather than the early 70s,” Martinson says. “The whole area was effectively recovering from the slum clearances of the 70s and from the second world war. There were still bombed-out buildings everywhere. It was very impoverished.”

For many, a visit to Brick Lane market was a highlight of the week. Not only could you buy anything from clothes and food that was “seriously past its sell-by date” to live animals, “it was also an outing for locals, in much the same way that it is now for hipsters and tourists”, says Martinson. Giorgi’s Cafe, now long forgotten, was in a prime position. “This was in the days before there was a coffee bar every two shops, so it was incredibly popular.”

Martinson has never moved from the Hackney area but now prefers to take landscape photographs in remote locations, such as South Uist. “The reason I called the exhibition Another Time Another Place is that Hackney has changed so profoundly,” he says. “I grew up in a period when you had a lot of people doing manual jobs. There was a huge amount of manufacturing going on in the borough, which helped to make it diverse and vibrant. Now many of the local people are employed in the service industry, cleaning and so on, while others are making money out of thin air, in the digital world.”

More of the same Phil Maxwell’s photographs of London’s East End 1980s