New photography book portrays the tension between grit and glamour of East London

Gilbert George Artist Pic: Maryam Eisler

The new book Voices: East London by Maryam Eisler explores the heart and the soul of East London through photography and stories of its residents. It was published in November of this year with Thames and Hudson Publishing.

The book features around 150 interviews and photographs of both old and new East Londoners. It portrays many pioneers, such as the artist duo Gilbert and George, and well-established artists who moved to the area during the 1990s, including Sue Webster and alternative drag artist Jonny Woo. It also features recent entrepreneurs, writers, street artists, fashionistas, chiefs, barbers, and more.

Jonny Woo, Alternative Drag Artist Pic: Maryam Eisler

Jonny Woo says in the book that East London “is still an area that attracts people that like to get things going”. “The reality is that the hispter-y layer on the top is fairly thin,” Woo says.“You just have to look around and see the density of housing, people and industry.” He has been living in the area since the 2000s.  

Eisler says the book took about 15 months to take all the interviews and photos. “My whole point was to highlight the creative psyche of the area by capturing the lives of the known and the unknown.”

Paul Hammer, Barber Pic: Maryam Eisler

The author’s first encounter with East London dates back to the 2000s. For Eisler as a West Londoner, it was “an adventure that had an element of danger and walking on the edge”. When she came back in the 2010s, the area had undergone significant changes. New office buildings and debates about gentrification diluted the area’s uniquely creative landscape. Eisler, however, believes that the character of East London is very much shaped by this constant tension between grit and glamour: “If you take one out, you take the area’s soul.”

Sue Webster, Artist Pic: Maryam Eisler

Sue Webster, artist and East London resident since 1995, describes the problematic situation of gentrification in the area in a different way: “Artists moved here to get away from everybody; I certainly did. [Now] its become trendy. It’s full of the people I have spent my entire life trying to avoid.”  

A home to Irish silk weavers in the late eighteenth century, to East European Jews in the twentieth and to immigrants from Southeast Asia today, the East End has always been able to adapt to the change and to reinvent itself.

Eisler is originally from Iran, and now lives and works in London as an editor and photographer. She is an art lover and supporter on both emotional and institutional levels. As a patron of Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern Art, she serves as a trustee at Whitechapel Gallery and co-chairs the Tate’s Middle East and North Africa Acquisitions Committee. Voices: East London is not her first publication, but it is the first one on which Eisler worked as a photographer and interviewer.

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