East End London '76
Thierry Girard    


At the beginning…

These photographs are more than early years pictures, they are the true starting point of my photographic work. At the beginning of 1976, I was 24, I had just graduated from Sciences Po Paris, and I had no specific idea about my future. I was very interested in photography, I had bought my first photography books, I went to exhibitions, but I had very little practice, almost none.

At that time, a good deal of my photographic background was related to British photography or to photographs taken in Britain by foreigners. I was, in a way, an Anglophile. I was fond of Bill Brandt’s work of course, I was familiar with the photographs of Tony Ray-Jones, Homer Sykes or David Hurn ; but the real trigger was to be Robert Frank's portfolio about London and Wales which was published in the 1975 edition of the Creative Camera international Yearbook. Knowing London rather well —I had stayed there several times in the previous years— I immediately related to the dull and unquiet atmosphere of Frank’s pictures.

So, I decided to go back to London for a challenge, some kind of double rite of initiation : how to face the outside world physically and mentally, and how to deal with photography. I decided to stay in the East End, the area where I used to live when I was a student, but I didn’t intend to do a reportage about the East End or East enders. I just wanted to walk for hours and days in the East End, seizing bits of life, passing through abandoned and dilapidated districts, pushing doors of working-class pubs, rambling through multi-coloured markets, playing with youngsters and spending time with a wonderful couple, clever and cheerful people but living in true poverty : they spent all day in a damp basement flat sewing ties for chic French firms. I liked the way they were concentrating on their work, but they didn’t care about the silk tieslying on the filthy spotted carpet.

At lunch time or in the evenings I would go to pubs where male and female strippers were performing. The people attending the shows, men and women, were just ordinary people. It was long before thoses trip shows were recommended as an East End trick in travel guides.
Of course, I made technical mistakes : I badly processed some films (some pictures are quite impossible to print). I used a wide-angle lens that was too large, but it was in the air at the time (remember William Klein, the first Koudelka pictures, Gipsies, or some influent Japanese photographers…) and my flash had a guide number that was too short to be efficient. Anyway, today I'm feeling very indulgent towards those errors. Some how they are consistent with the spirit of urban and social harshness I met there.

Later, I went back to London every year till 1983. Mostly in the East End, and quite particularly in Brick Lane which was then filled with petty thieves, cripple dold beggars, junkies and skinheads. Long before it became a trendy place. I took pictures in Brixton after the riots, and I attended two or three times the Caribbean carnival in Portobello, when it was still a true community festival, with no tourists. I spent Christmas 81 in Belfast, a few months after Bobby Sands’ death. In 1983, I received a grant to spend the summer between London, South-West England and Wales. No doubt that work was taken into account by the jury who awarded me  the Niepce Prize in 1984.

All those photographs made in London and in Great Britain between 1976 and 1983 are worth revisiting. Very few pictures have ever been published or exhibited. This is some kind of unknown territory for most people knowing my present work, but what I did the reat the time has been decisive for my future as a photographer.

Thierry Girard, march 2016.

All photographs © Thierry Girard 1976-2016

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