‘Before gentrification’: Photographer shares black-and-white pictures of Dalston in the 1980s
- Credit: Andrew Holligan
Andrew Holligan captured life in Dalston three decades ago on a 1950s camera. He shares his snaps – and explains how the project came about.
Nobody took offence to Andrew Holligan as he took photos of people on the streets of Dalston in the ’80s – apart from the drug dealers, that is.
“They thought I was an undercover police officer,” explained Andrew, whose photos have just been published by Hoxton Mini Press.
“They’re a bit paranoid, anyway, and if someone comes around with a camera they think you are trying to expose them.
“I was wandering around with my camera. I didn’t poke it at them. That’s what you do with photography – you don’t charge up to someone and take a picture. You nurture the situation.”
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Andrew, then 27, moved to Dalston from New York in 1984 with his American wife. She “found it a bit run-down for her liking” and said it was too remote, not being on a Tube line.
A friend had a flat there and had offered them a place to stay. Having “time on his hands”, Andrew decided to go out on the streets to explore.
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“I was just curious,” he said. “There was no motive behind the pictures. I roamed around where I was.”
After leaving the area two years later, he stored the photos away in an old cupboard in his West Sussex home and “had no thought of them” – until he heard Hoxton Mini Press was looking for material for its East London Photo series.
“I submitted a portfolio and they loved the pictures,” he said, “so they suddenly came to life for me again after 30 odd years.”
At the time he was “fascinated” by the 1950s Rolleiflex camera he used – which he still has to this day.
The difference is subtle but he believes it gave the photos a unique quality.
“You look down into it from your waist. You aren’t bringing the camera to your eye, so you are almost like a child when you take the picture, and you get a different perspective.
“People were intrigued by this camera, so it gave me a little bit more time with my subjects. It’s not fast photography. You have to get yourself into position rather than just snap, snap, snap.
“It’s as if I’ve taken the photo from two feet lower down that my eye sight. You aren’t looking down on them so much – it gives them more presence, if you like.”
He added: “People ask me: ‘How many shots did you take of that person?’ It was one or two at most.
“You weren’t generous with film – it’s expensive. You don’t know what you’ve got coming.
“That’s the fun thing. If they haven’t worked out, they haven’t worked out.”
What does he think about them being a glimpse into life 30 years ago?
“They are historic in terms of how they have now been produced,” he said. “That’s one side that fascinates people, from the clothes to the hairstyles and cars. There’s nothing digital about the world. Some of the pictures look like they could be 50 years old or more.
“People are talking about the gentrification and all that stuff. There was no awareness [of that] at the time – gentrification has become much more of a word that’s around nowadays, like ‘organic’.”
But Andrew, now 61, conceded: “There could have been a sense of gentrification when I moved there because a lot of artists were moving in. That could have been the stirring point.
“I wasn’t really trying to make a point at all. It was just a very personal kind of journey. I wasn’t looking for poverty or an ethnic multicultural thing. I don’t want to pass judgement on any place or anyone.
“Time and again it was just me going out and meeting the world.”