Paul Trevor at Rich Mix

Last week I got e-mail from Paul Trevor and realised I’d not actually been able to see his work when I called in at Rich Mix Cultural Foundation on the Bethnal Green Road at the top of Brick Lane – and I’ve since met several people who had the same experience as me.

Paul contacted the gallery after hearing from me, and whether as a result or otherwise, when I called in there on Friday, things were very different. I went down the stairs again and sat on the old sofa, and enjoyed around 300 of Paul’s pictures on the large display screen, projected at roughly six second intervals in a show lasting roughly 30 minutes.

As I sat down, one of his pictures from the ‘Battle of Lewisham‘ was on screen, and what followed was a kaleidoscope of life from London’s East End in all its rich diversity. Of course many of the pictures were familiar to me – including some of the half dozen or so I’d featured in the London Arts Cafe show a few years ago, as well as those I’d seen in various shows and publications over the years, but there was also a great deal of work new to me.

The images in the display were a selection from the 5000 scanned from Paul’s contact sheets by the London Metropolitan University as the initial step in a project to produce 500 high quality scans for his Eastender Archive. Paul obviously took rather more care over his contact than some photographers (me for example!) but there were still some that were a little too light or dark, as well as those for which a straight unmanipulated print cannot do justice. The scans were of surprisingly high quality – considerably better than those I made of my own contacts for my very first CD project, ‘London Pictures 1992’, made in 1993 when I found that none of the clients I gave the CD to had the equipment to play it. Technology has moved on considerably since then! Contacts from 35mm are 1.5×1″, and a scan at 1200 dpi gives a 1800×1200 pixel image, sufficient for most display devices.

The sofa and screen are in a hole down a set of stairs from the main floor level. There are now two large projected images on the walls above this, one at the side and one on the back wall. Although the quality of these large projections is still rather washed out – even in the dull light of approaching dusk that I was there, at least the projectors are now set up correctly without the distortion of aspect ratio and keystoning apparent in my previous vision, and the images are shown on a blank wall avoiding the ventilation duct that formed a part of every image previously,

Its a shame that my write-up here – and in my previous piece has had to concentrate so much on the practicalities rather than the images. But this is only an initial stage in the project. Paul Trevor’s work in the East End of London is certainly one of the most significant bodies of documentary work produced in the UK in the era and deserves considerably more care and respect than was shown by the gallery – and a much fuller treatment by critics – including myself – at a later date when the project is in a more complete form.

There were a few pictures in those I watched that I would be surprised to find in the final cut, knowing something of the strength and depth of Paul’s work. A few perhaps where his feeling for the people or the place or the occasion is stronger than the photographic representation, as well as a little duplication, but the overall impression is hardly diminished.

There were many places and situations that I recognised, and some – in particular the anti-racist demonstrations – where I was scanning the image to see if I was visible, at the time more as a participant than a photographer. I didn’t find myself, but Paul’s work forms a very recognisable and very intimate view of an East End that I’ve only really glimpsed over the years as an outsider.

So, get along to Rich Mix and see the show – its on until 30 Nov, and Paul’s work is by far the most interesting show in London at the moment.

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