When the Geography department closed in what is now London Metropolitan University, these large format photographs were rescued from the skip. Many of the black and white negatives were scratched and the colour transparencies were faded (the now rosy colours would certainly not have been what the photographer intended nor what was seen when the images were first developed) but these altered photographic qualities contribute to a sense of the passage of time.
Initially, the authors of these found images were somewhat mysterious; “Brian”, “Steve” and “Don” written in pencil on several of the negative sleeves suggested rather vaguely whom the photographers might be. However, it transpired that in the 1970s Don Shewan had been working in the Geography department at Queen Mary’s College as a cartographer. Collaborating with two assistants, another cartographer Steve Pratt and Brian Canarens, a photographer, Shewan had been in the process of making an atlas of the East End and mapping social trends; there were huge and complex changes in the area with rising unemployment, factory closures, redevelopment and the start of the transformation of the Docklands. However, when Don Shewan began a new job at London Guildhall University (now the London Metropolitan University) the project did not progress and although he had kept the material for teaching purposes, when the department finally closed, many photographs were discarded.
This small, rescued collection now forms a part of East End Archive at The Cass and, although not individually authored, the agenda for making the work is clear: to provide a social document of the time. In order to do this, the photographers chose to use an unwieldy 5x4 camera that requires a tripod and therefore a fixed position, the purpose of which must have been to clearly communicate the detail. In some photographs, however, a shallow depth of field obscures information and the edges of the frame reveal a less considered composition that is more concerned with the subject matter than any aesthetic consideration. From a contemporary perspective however, the foibles, flaws and damage contribute to the fascination these images hold as emissaries from another time, communicating a particular photographic approach and providing evidence of the social changes that have occurred in population, culture, fashion and architecture.