The New Review /

East London’s gritty street life brought back into focus

Paul Trevor’s spirited photographs of the Brick Lane area in the 1970s and 1980s breathe life into a forgotten community

‘You’ll never take me alive, copper!’: Brick Lane, 1978
(Photos by Paul Trevor)

Before Brick Lane was covered in street art and boutique shops, it was a half-formed mishmash of litter-strewn market stalls, smoky pubs and corrugated iron half-covering decades-old bomb sites. The east London road, an artery linking Bethnal Green to Spitalfields, was home to a mix of teddy boys, cockney housewives and newly-arrived Bangladeshi migrants in dapper flared suit trousers. Paul Trevor spent three decades documenting the area, creating an archive of a London street life that now, after decades of gentrification and the disappearance of playing children, looks starkly foreign.

A self-taught photographer, Paul Trevor’s instinctual approach was perfectly suited to London’s chaotic street life. More attuned to the gritty, kinetic tradition of William Klein and Daido Moriyama than the lyricism of British photographers like Bill Brandt, his work shouts rather than sings. His Brick Lane photographs are full of a determined spirit of survival in a place which was then still rife with poverty and racial violence.

Paul Trevor photographed inner cities across Britain throughout his career; his Brick Lane work from the 1970s and 1980s has now been collected into a book from Hoxton Mini Press, titled Once Upon a Time in Brick Lane. The fairy-tale name nods to a long-lost world brought back to life by the immediacy of the photographer’s gaze. “Looking at Paul’s photographs, you can see all the special, fleeting, human moments,” writes screenwriter Alan Gilbey in the book’s introduction. “With the flick of a shutter, at the perfect time, these people live again. Even in monochrome, there is so much life.”

Once Upon a Time in Brick Lane by Paul Trevor is published by Hoxton Mini Press


Flares and attitude in the year of Saturday Night Fever: Brick Lane, E1, 1977


Snatching a quick 40 winks: Brick Lane, E1, 1978


Pole vaulting with ‘borrowed’ drainpipes: Fournier Street, E1, 1974


Aspiring pop stars boxing clever: Sclater Street, E1, 1975


There’s one just like it in Paris: Cheshire Street, E2, 1975


The thing about London buses is...: Chilton Street, E2, 1977


Bust stop matriarchs: Commercial Street, E1, 1981


Misty morning figure: Wentworth Street, E1, 1978