Since 2013, indie publisher Hoxton Mini Press has been celebrating the stories of its local community via its East London Photo Stories book series.
The latest publication in the series comes courtesy of portrait photographer and Hackney resident Jenny Lewis, who has lived in the area for 25 years, the last three of which have been spent documenting the individuals who make up her local community.
Titled One Hundred Years, the initial idea behind the book was to capture a century of Hackney life, in the form of portraits of locals ranging from a newborn to a centenarian.
“Having worked on two very specific projects – One Day Young, capturing the day a woman gives birth, and Hackney Studios, a series of creatives in their spaces – I really wanted to explore other lives, other experiences than my own,” Lewis tells CR.
“I widened the net and decided I would capture 100 portraits covering every age from one to 100 and see where that took me. I knew I was going to have 100 inspiring conversations so that was enough to set me off in a new direction.”
Lewis wanted to create an accurate portrait of her neighbours, which would reflect the many nationalities, ages and outlooks that make up the diverse London borough. She began with a newborn baby and, over the course of the three-year project, worked her way up to the grand old age of 100.
“Shooting continuously allows a certain ease with your equipment and the process of taking a portrait. It becomes second nature, so to be honest you think about it less and less and it all becomes very natural. The more at ease you are, the greater intimacy you can achieve with your subject,” says Lewis.
“I found myself in front of all sorts of people sharing intimate thoughts and experiences they had had. It was a privilege to shoot like this, with no set agenda, never knowing what the image or the text would be. The generosity of strangers to share their lives and stories always leaves you with an energy that is quite unique.”
Sitting alongside the photos, the accompanying texts give an insight into the personalities behind the portraits. These range from three-year-old Vivi, who says she likes to be loud every day, to 100-year-old Renée, who used to be married to a gangster in her 20s.
With Hackney being the creative hub that it is, CR readers will no doubt recognise a few familiar faces including artist and sculptor Wilfrid Wood, illustrator Hattie Stewart and graphic designer Algy Batten.
As for what Lewis hopes people will take away from the book? “I suppose I haven’t really tried to capture anything but just let people be, and see what bubbles to the surface,” she says.
“I hope there’s a bit of them there, not the mask people often offer up for a portrait. I’ve always thought the ordinary is pretty extraordinary, so I hope the series will encourage people to take notice of who is around them, to give people time and appreciate the resilience and richness of the human experience.”