London’s Portrait – East London

posted by on 28/07/2013

On a cool Saturday afternoon in spring, Team Yin&Yang and I set off with a camera in our hands, an oyster card in our pocket, and the never say die spirit of DCI John Luther in our hearts, and decided to document London and its people, through a series of portraits and articles. First up, East London.

Let’s get something clear: I have called East London home way before saying you lived east of the Old Street roundabout made you seem like a person whose fashion sense one should copy; before the sight of Usain Bolt flexing down a track at record breaking speeds, or the sound of Mumford and Sons echoing through Her Majesty’s Park was ever a possibility. Even though many of us are proud to say we were there even before Stratford ever had a Nando’s, the expansion of this area has definitely been the most intriguing of any area of our beloved capital city.

Despite East London’s newfound fame and success, the tale is still not complete. There is still plenty to understand about this city’s most diverse area. A twenty-minute journey on the District Line can show you everything you need to know about East London’s past, its present and what will hopefully be, a pretty dope future.

Going east of Mile End, you will discover East London’s past. Immigrant communities have long been able to call East London home, and West Ham is no better place to go and see how communities have been built over many generations for families seeking a better life in London; whether they were running from the constant chase of war, or just a lack of opportunities to fulfill their potential, many have come to the UK for a fresh beginning, and have literally set up shop.

Many immigrants come late in their life, and so the change from what they know can be truly drastic, so small communities, and support systems were made to create a semblance of home. This publication is probably not the right place to start a debate as to whether this level of multi-culturalism is right for the country as a whole, but it is what it is. Many of these areas have remained so because of a consistent lack of government interest and investment, as well as many within – normally the older generations – never fully being able to find their feet amongst the more traditional British communities.

A quick walk down Green Street and you will see more stores selling traditional Asian garments than you will British; whilst walking past three generations of one family, the youngest of which are finally reaping the benefits of their grandparent’s sacrifices, and the first of which to truly consider themselves British above anything else. This part of East London represents community, hope and promise: the foundations of East London’s past.

Probably the most misunderstood word in the current vocabulary of the fine people of this city, represents East London’s present: Hipster. This word has been hung, drawn and quartered to mean everything and anything.

“Hey, look, there is a man wearing a tuxedo jacket over a clown suit.” No worries, he’s just a hipster.

“I don’t exactly have a job, but I’m kind of like a freelance videographer/pop up art gallery owner, with all the proceeds going towards by work as a part time activist for African peace”. Hipster

“Using gears to cycle is silly” Hipster.

For me, the hipster concept simply represents our generation as the age of the individual. The lack of jobs means that highly qualified young people have time on their hands, and so they are using the boom in social media, and the ever-increasing possibilites of the Internet to create truly amazing, as well as god-awful things.

Thankfully, The hipster concept has now found its home, perfectly nestled in the tattooed arms, and stroking the overgrown beards of areas like Brick Lane, Shoreditch, Hoxton, Dalston and Hackney, with some of the coolest bars, restaurants and brands choosing to ride their fixies into the heart of East London, and live the dream. It’s no longer only at night that people can find worth in these streets, but also in the day, as the creatively savvy get to work, just doing.

Walking through Hoxton, it is at times tempting to mock the latest “pop up”, or truly wonder how rebellious it really is setting up your own vegan clothes store, but walking through an area where people are at least trying to do things slightly different, whatever their motives, can be refreshing, and dare I say inspiring. Whether it’s a coffee, bagel, dance floor, thick-rimmed glasses or bright sequined hot pants you need, East London’s got it.

If you consider Shoreditch and Dalston to be the cooler, younger, more popular brother, with the swagger and intelligence to either achieve huge things, or fail miserably; then Stratford is the older, more stable, suit wearing brother, whom you would probably never text to see what they were doing on a Saturday night, but you’d probably let them baby sit your kids.

It is in Stratford’s hands, East London’s future has been placed. At this point it is a great unknown. Westfield has definitely helped attract people to the area; however, surprisingly enough, an Olympic park is only useful during an Olympics, unless an appropriate legacy can be created, and so far things are looking good, with the promise of 5 new neighborhoods; a University, and more music festivals to entertain any party rocker.

For the purpose of this piece, we decided to focus our lenses on the amazing community that already exists there. Within the walls of Stratford shopping centre, you can find everything you need, from obscure West African fruit, to a Craig David album you never even knew existed.

Locals will tell you this is real Stratford, where the rhythm, blues and beats of the area is set. The reality is, in 4 or 5 years time, the perception of what real Stratford, and in fact East London, is would have changed.

“To what?” you ask so politely.

Well friend, armed once again with a camera, and an oyster card, we will just have to come back and see.

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