A new book by photographer Chris Dorley-Brown provides a snapshot of a morning in Hackney in 1987, when the roads were gridlocked due to the privatisation of Rolls Royce in the city. The series shows drivers looking bored, irritated and occasionally mugging for the camera. CR talks to Dorley-Brown about the shots, and how Hackney has changed in the last three decades…
“I set out that day to make some photographs of the Rolls Royce shares sell off, and along the way, as I walked to the city, the people in the traffic jam captured my attention,” Dorley-Brown says of the portraits in the book, which is titled Drivers in the 1980s and is published by Hoxton Mini Press. “Hackney was a fascinating place in the 1980s; a bit old-fashioned but full of a wonderful mixture of people who seemed to get on very well with each other…. It was the perfect place to photograph if you were interested in ‘social documentary’.”
The images are entertaining to look at partly because of how they represent a certain moment in time, with the hairstyles, the cars, even the old-fashioned Telecom logo all immediately summoning up the 1980s. Despite this though, they also show that some things in Hackney haven’t changed: Dorley-Brown remembers this particular day as “hot, sweaty and frustrating”, emotions that might be familiar to anyone trapped in London traffic jams today.
“I was a young and inexperienced photographer but I was full of anticipation as they were the first time I shot colour ‘seriously’,” he continues, “so looking at them now I am reminded of my youth and optimism, I hadn’t seen pictures of people in cars before. I have noticed recently that motorists don’t have their windows down so much these days in hot weather, they just switch the air conditioning on. Other than that I think you could take a very similar sequence of images today, traffic jams haven’t gone away.”
Dorley-Brown has lived and worked in the east of London for over 30 years, and has shot several series documenting Hackney. Of how the borough has changed in the past three decades, he comments, “It has and it hasn’t. I have studied Hackney history a lot for various projects, and the ‘regeneration’ has happened before, most notably in the 60s, when so many public housing projects were started.
“The late 70s and early 80s was a time when the borough suffered from a lack of care,” he continues. “It comes and goes in waves, but it’s always had a great social energy, a kind of tension and exuberance that co-exist, and I love that … anything could happen anytime and frequently did. It still has that quality today, and the inhabitants of Hackney are proud and loyal of the place that some other areas of London seem to lack. When I have to leave Hackney for any reason, I yearn to come back, it’s magnetic.”
Drivers in the 1980s is available from Hoxton Mini Press, priced £12.95. hoxtonminipress.com