Images of Hackney from the past and present go on show in support of East London food bank

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Colin Roach Protest 1982. © Neil Martinson.

“In the 1980s, Hackney was a very poor place,” says local photographer Neil Martinson, “but there were no food banks”

Born and raised in Hackney, east London, Neil Martinson first began taking photographs during the 1970s, while he was still at school. Throughout the intervening years, he has devoted his practice to recording working-class life in the inner-city borough, capturing crumbling housing estates and high unemployment, but also recording resilience and vitality.

In recent months, Martinson has returned to these images, revisiting and re-photographing streets once lined with bombed out houses and places where factories – then abuzz with workers – once stood. These new images are shown side-by-side with the photographer’s archival work in a new exhibition, Rare Hackney. On show at Two More Years in Hackney Wick, Martinson’s images are being sold to raise funds for Hackney Foodbank.

Haggerston 1971. © Neil Martinson.

“In the 1980s, Hackney was a very poor place,” Martinson recalls. “There was really high levels of unemployment, the high street was rundown, the estates were falling apart. But there were no food banks.” The photographer is keen, he explains, not to romanticise the 1980s – a time which undoubtedly had many problems of its own – but to highlight these changes in Hackney’s makeup.

His latest images from the borough – in which Hackney Foodbank now operates across five different locations each week– often confront these changes head on. One image shows shop worker Matt Payne. Heavily tattooed, with a moustache and wearing a tight white vest, he stands in vintage clothing shop, Beyond Retro. Forty one years ago, Martinson took an image of another worker on almost exactly the same spot. Only then, he was in the Simpsons clothing factory.

Simpsons factory 1981 producing suits for Daks. © Neil Martinson.
Simpsons former factory 2022. Matt Payne, Beyond Retro selling vintage clothing. © Neil Martinson.

“While it’s continued to be something to do with the garment industry, it is very, very different. The kind of clothes on sale, the kind of people that buy stuff, is all very different,” the photographer reflects. “The guy I took a picture of… It’s difficult to imagine him walking around Hackney in the 1980s without getting a lot of harassment. So in a sense, [the photograph] is also showing some of the social and cultural changes that have taken place.”

While some cultural changes – such as diversity and inclusivity – can only be good, the arrival of food banks in Hackney is part of a far more concerning societal shift. Amid a concerning demand for the services of food banks across the country, Martinson’s exhibition acts as an important call-to-action

Ridley Road. © Neil Martinson.

Rare Hackney is on show at Two More Years, Hackney Wick, until 15 November 2022. Prints can be purchased via his website.