CHILDHOOD STREETS

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CHILDHOOD STREETS

BEING A SELECTED CATALOGUE OF PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGES
TAKEN IN LONDON'S STREETS & PLACES

BY

GRAHAM OVENDEN

VOLUME 1 - 1956-1964

In one respect the following Images of London's streets peopled by children and photographed by this writer between the years 1956 and 1964 may be seen as a reversal of a common romantic perspective: that is, the metropolitan child deprived of nature and seeking for the pastoral horizons. I was country born and bred and for me, being taken on a visit to relations in Stepney, the mystery of the dark, begrimed warehousing, the great mass of humanity, those seemingly endless brick parallels of terraced housing, this is what filled my mind with awe and poetical speculation.

I write this now on reflection and the rationalization of half a lifetime. Certainly as a thirteen year old when this self appointed task began, the mystery was all and in no way could one have given a lucid explanation for such things.

At this time I was living in Southampton: it was there in the old docks (that place of homecomings, great and little departures and at one turning point of history, a greater disaster to be) which has much of the atmosphere of London's dockland, that my sensibilities were awakened to a past which counterpoints our present. Also there were long weekends, those silences which make such a contrast to the frantic activities of the week days... Sadly both environments, because of redevelopment, are a shadow of what was.

Ovenden Jnr. by means of monies earned from paper rounds, would take the Friday evening train from Southampton to Waterloo, the Underground to Whitechapel and his feet to ... where? Well, as to where the proverbial nose took one. Needless to say I became hopelessly lost during the first year of visits, but in time a sense of geography prevailed and taking note of factory air vents, all night cafes, sleeping rough became tolerable (at least for the weekend).

Perhaps though this random setting forth proved dividends because, as with the country rambler, one can arrive at unexpected points of vantage and these 'discoveries' may hold the viewer, revealing themselves in a heightened reality. The veil is drawn for an instant and the perspective of human aspiration is laid intensely on the observer.

Night photography with primitive equipment is difficult but not impossible and the hours of sunrise to sunset were as much for observation and wonder and in winter, keeping warm, for this singular need to wander was not seasonal.

It is pertinent to state that over the eight year period when the desire to see and record, hold an instant of a communication as it were, took place, there was no sense of intimidation or aggravation on the part of the victims of my camera lens. I wonder if the same would be true at this moment of history, when the popular media and self appointed fundamentalists have corrupted the very child within, so that we are in fear of our every shadow of emotion?

As time and, I hope, experience progresses I seethe photographic medium as an alchemy which reveals in metaphor-dark and light - good and evil, the powerful vehicle of expression. The forms of humanity structured by light, made concrete entities to be held, the child in grace or the child into age, both to return to the shadows. We sense each, their venerabilities, their strengths, not overtly knowing but fraught, joyful and not without aspiration.

When these photographs were taken, despite the ravages of Goering, the East End in particular still held much of community, its century traditions and structures. With the coming of the early 'sixties' a new destruction in the guise of progress fell on this great "Well of Souls". One of the most telling experiences of my young life was, on one expedition, being confronted by an old man sitting on the curb side and weeping enclosed in the arms of his daughter and grand daughter. On enquiry, the council had evicted him for "redevelopment" from the terrace house in which he had lived for the past eighty years.

I did not photograph this group, such personal sorrow demands respect and privacy. Soon after this incident I moved to London to attend the Royal College and my documentation of their lives ceased. I have never photographed in these areas since. How strange a conceit that as an outsider I wished to record their humanity but when permanently immersed in that physical presence, the desire to continue left me.

Such are the vagaries of human nature, but as the perspective of time adds its overlay of sentiment on such imagery it may prove of some value, if only the holding of children's faces while still in grace.