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Dalston in the 80s
Photography Andrew Holligan

Photos of East London in the 80s before it changed forever

Andrew Holligan’s photographs of Dalston celebrate the real people that made the neighbourhood one of the most diverse places in London

If you really are a product of your time and environment, well, that makes me a child of Dalston in the 80s, the title of photographer Andrew Holligan’s evocative account of living in the since radically transformed London area.

Captured in black and white on a 50s Rolleiflex over the two years that the fashion photographer lived in Dalston after moving from New York City in 1984, the book paints a personal portrait of a place at a time. One that epitomised London’s multi-ethnic neighbourhood and market mentality before it changed, more than anywhere else in the city, over the following quarter century. Long before it became synonymous with both the capital’s millennium  gentrification, burgeoning nightlife and over-zealous estate agents.

Before the illegal raves and the drug raids, before the young artists and bands, before the new build apartment blocks and chain stores. Dalston was one of Britain’s poorest boroughs under Thatcher’s Tory reign. It was riddled with socio-economic decline, the rise of hard drugs and racist police brutality. National Front pubs and Caribbean clubs shared the same street. In spite of this, Holligan’s photos have an honest humility which brings out a sense of self-pride, youthful optimism and community spirit in his working class neighbours. His handwritten diary-like entries only add to this feeling of a people’s history.

I would have been a baby when these photos were taken, like one of the shots – my dad tells me he’d push my pram up by the reggae stall on Ridley Market on a Saturday – so they have the strange and familiar nostalgia of a memory I can’t remember. Carole Rank, a friend’s mother and market trader, tells me, “there was no place like it, where Jewish, Caribbean, African, English folks would all come to do their weekly shop. And where friendships were made.”

The book’s opening quote describes the world as “a planet of thousands of the most varied and never intersecting provinces” but perhaps Dalston in the 80s was somewhere that they did.

Dalston in the 80s by Andrew Holligan available now via Hoxton Mini Press