Portfolio: Walter Joseph

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Full of East End promise

It is no revelation to say that London's East End was devastated by the Second World War; nor that, despite the privations of the rest of the decade, its people did their best to get the area back up and running.

Yet the period – and the people – remain a fascination to us. How often do we invoke the Blitz spirit that saw them through the years that extended beyond the war – more often than not, comically bathetically so? It is to this preoccupation that these photographs speak, offering an everyman's view of subjects from street traders to entertainers. And who wouldn't fancy a quick glance at the Spiv's Gazette?

Yet there is added interest here, and that is in the history of the man behind the lens: born into an Orthodox Jewish family, Walter Joseph fled his native Germany in 1939 for England. After being interned on the Isle of Man for the period of the war, he worked in a newspaper's photographic laboratories while remaining an enthusiastic semi-professional photographer in his own right. He doubted his own ability, but his family were proud of his images – which is how they ended up in a collection now on display at the British Library.

The library's curator of visual arts, John Falconer, was informed by a friend that the photographer's stepdaughter still owned the collection of negatives and was keen for them to be seen by the public. Only 80 images have survived – 30 of which are being exhibited – but they stand as a valuable record of bustling post-war life in east London, as seen through the eyes of an immigrant with good reason to embrace its love of life.

The Independent on Sunday is the media sponsor of the London Street Photography Festival. Street Markets of London in the 1940s, an exhibition of Walter Joseph's work, is showing as part of the festival until 31 July at the British Library, London NW1 ( londonstreetphotographyfestival.org)

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