When Steven Berkoff was on the film set of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo in LA, he often sneaked off to take photographs of downtown slums and nearby 1940s diner-style restaurants.
Likewise, in between his scenes in The Tourist in Venice, which starred Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, he was off snapping narrow canals, gondolas and ancient buildings. “You can't take photos on movie sets because people think you are spying on them. It's easier in the theatre – they love having their photo taken,” says Berkoff, who has been a keen photographer ever since he was given his first camera aged 11. “I take my camera away with me. Most of my photos show beggars, tramps and down-and-outs.”
Now he's publishing his first ever photography book, East End Photographs, which coincides with a photography show of the same title, currently at Lucy Bell Fine Art in East Sussex. The atmospheric photos taken of the East End in the 1960s and 1970s show a then largely Jewish community in shops and streets, including chicken slaughterers, bagel sellers, deli owners and tailors. He captures run-down streets which have now been demolished; a slumped figure in a corrugated iron doorway; a man posing with a pint of bitter in the Brick Lane pub; a hard-worn lady stands in the market selling “carrier bags, 2 pence”. “These photos are of absolute historical significance because they capture a lost era,” says Berkoff, who was born in Stepney. “I felt I had to record it before it vanished forever.”
His favourite photograph is of the poultry-shop owner Jack Weller's wife, who holds up her wedding photograph (below). “Her fingers were still covered in blood from dead chickens when she pulled out the photograph,” says Berkoff. “I love Diane Arbus's photography and this is similar in style.”
'Steven Berkoff – East End Photographs', Lucy Bell Fine Art, St Leonards-on-Sea, until 21 Feb 2013. For book sales: www.lucy-bell.com
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