New builds. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Topical Press Agency, Hulton Archive, Getty Image.
Art and artistsCultureLocal

Homes and Homelessness: Photographs capture 100 years of living conditions in Tower Hamlets

Four Corners’ latest exhibition documents housing in East London from the Victorian era to the present day, encouraging viewers to consider the systemic nature of housing precarity and homelessness.

Conditions of Living: Images of Home and Homelessness in London’s East End is the latest exhibition at the film and photography gallery Four Corners in Globe Town. 

From archival photographs to the assisted self-portraits of artist Anthony Luvera, Conditions of Living traces over one hundred years of housing in East London. Commencing with the slums and workhouses of the late nineteenth century, the exhibition takes us through post-war council estates and ends with market-driven ‘affordable’ housing, as seen with the numerous high-rise developments concentrated in the East End over the last two decades. 

Conditions of Living shines a light on stories often overlooked. Black and white photographs of the determined men and women of Stepney holding placards depict the rent strike of the 1930s. Images of damp ceilings, peeling floral wallpaper and a tower block caved in remind us of the neglect of local estates, decades ahead of the Grenfell disaster in 2017. A cluster of Bengali children wound around an abandoned car at Fieldgate Mansions points to the complex entanglement of class and racial discrimination faced by East London’s Bengali community. 

What comes across most powerfully is the sense of community and connection pertinent to all East London neighbourhoods. Time and again, people come together in solidarity and fight for equity, whether that be to save Fieldgate Mansions from demolition in the 1970s or Brick Lane in 2021

A stone’s throw from the Cranbrook Estate, an example of pioneering modernist social housing, Four Corners’ exhibition encourages attendees to consider how issues of homelessness, unstable living conditions and inflated rents persist to the present day. 

Against the rise of gentrification and increasing economic segregation in Tower Hamlets, Conditions of Living is a poignant and searching collection of photographs, utilising the camera as a medium for social engagement and empowerment.

Women sleeping on street benches of Sptialfields in 1902: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Rough sleeping. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Huntington Library, San Marino.
A family in slum housing in Lisburn Street, Bethnal Green in 1923: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Slum housing. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Topical Press Agency, Hulton Archive, Getty Image.
Mothers and babies, standing outside the gates of a Victorian housing block in Whitechapel in 1938: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Mothers. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Humphrey Spender Picture Post, Getty Images.
Women sewing at Shelter Committee in Spitalfields in 1941: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Shelter. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Bert Hardy Picture Post, Hulton Archive, Getty Images
People crowded on the back of a truck leaving their housing in the East End in 1940: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Leaving town. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Bert Hardy Picture Post, Getty Images
Looking out over new houses being built in Poplar in 1951: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
New builds. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Topical Press Agency, Hulton Archive, Getty Image.
A photograph of a woman called Sylvia in Tenterground, Spitalfields in 1970s: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Doorstep. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Moyra Peralta
Young sisters reflected in a mirror in Rothschild dwellings, 1969: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Sisters. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Nick Hedges
Delapidated houses in Bromley Street in 1975: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Dilapidation. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Andrew Scott
A woman looking out from the 16th floor balcony of Charles Dickens House, Bethnal Green in 1978: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
High rise. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Tom Learmonth
Eviction in Hackney in 1991: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Eviction. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Brian Harris
Suited Bengali father and son protesting against Liberal Democrat policy in Tower Hamlets in the 1990s: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Protest. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Lloyd Gee
Back and front entrances to the New Holland Estate: Images of Housing, Homelessness and Resistance in London's East End, from the Conditions of Living exhibition at Four Corners.
Entrances. Image kindly provided by Four Corners © Anthony Luvera

Conditions of Living is on display at Four Corners until Saturday 2 September 2023.

f you enjoyed this, you may also like This is Home: memories from Clare House of Life before eviction.

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