Steven Berkoff

Born in Stepney, director, actor and playwright Steven Berkoff was given his first camera by “an enlightened cousin” as an 11-year-old boy. Ten years later his brother-in-law bought him an enlarger and showed him how to print his own pictures. “Then one day somebody sold me a second-hand Rolleiflex and now I had an amazing machine. From then on I never stopped taking pictures. The camera became a way of communicating my feelings about sights and people. And I started to record the people who were part of my environment in the East End of London. The camera in many ways preceded the pen. The East End markets were always my playground and I liked nothing more than my weekly trip to Petticoat Lane. The East End was changing rapidly and I felt I had to record it before it vanished forever – at the time however I did not realise quite how fast it would disappear. The area was largely Jewish and this made it fascinating, since the early immigrants came with an amazing potpourri of cultures from a score of different peoples. For a while I lived in Anthony Street, off Commercial Road and just around the corner from the extraordinary Hessel Street, a bustling thoroughfare that could have been torn out of the Warsaw ghetto. It was a dense artery of Jewish life with chicken slaughterers, bagel sellers and delis selling that wonderful variety of Jewish food so adored by its passionate noshers. I’d go shopping with ma and be astounded by the clamour and the noise; the shouts of introduction from bagel sellers every few yards sitting with their huge sacks of Moorish circles of dough. I was fortunate enough to capture some images of that life before it faded away along with the people who made it so memorable.”

Steven Berkoff

 

Copyright 2017 The East End Archive at The CASS