So far, I have published two books by Tony Bock, each focussing on a part of his Social Landscapes series shot during the 1970s. This week I am 'releasing' the third book in the series, Social Landscapes East London in the 1970s. I first came across Tony's work on the excellent Spitalfields Life. What attracted me to his work was the apparent honesty of the images. They look like they are shot by a tourist, although they don't look like tourist photographs. I mean they have the innocence and playfulness of photographs taken by someone who doesn't live in the place they are shooting, but a compositional and narrative structure which, in places, is reminiscent of shots from Tony Ray Jones's 'a day off', or Homer Sykes's 'Once a Year'. The focus is human behaviour; the crowds and in some cases the emptiness or lack of crowd, the solitude of the photographer and topography of the area. Mostly he goes unnoticed, documenting moments which have become a record of change.
I asked Tony what led him to take these photographs.
When I was given a 35mm camera for my twenty-first birthday, I knew then I wanted to be a photographer.
But in 1972, after being asked to leave the Photo Arts course at Ryerson Polytechnic in Toronto, I found myself living in Yorkshire. Immediately, I was intrigued by this new and visually rich place, the beauty and character of the landscape, both rural and urban, and its people. And mostly I was fascinated by the overlapping of the past with the present.
A year later I moved to East London, working for several newspapers covering the area from Whitechapel to Essex. Another compelling place, and a great time to be there.
My family came from this part of London, my mother was born in Bow, and grew up in Dagenham. My Grandad, a docker, had worked in the Royal Docks for many years.
Then in 1978, I was offered work at The Toronto Star, the largest paper in Canada. The racism and pollution in the East End were getting me down and when Maggie Thatcher was elected – well – that was enough to send me back home.
I worked at The Star for over thirty years, a great place to be a photojournalist. It was (and still is) a paper with a long history of great journalism, with editors that cared about photography. It had the budget to undertake long term projects, deal with social issues and send its staff around the world.
Today, I work on personal projects and contribute to Photosensitive, a group of photographers concerned with social change. But mostly, my wife Lyn and I spend much of our time restoring an old village railway station about eighty miles from Toronto. It was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1904, but now sits in the woods, it hasn’t seen a train in over fifty years.
I try to tell a story with my photographs. They are not just arty arrangements of subject matter in the 2x3 rectangle, but there should be relationships that develop between the elements. And when the images are edited into a sequence, they should be making a narrative. The world is a visual place to be, and photographers use a non-verbal vocabulary to describe their experience.
Tony Bock, 2014
All images © Tony Bock. Publications © Café Royal Books.