Original text used in the Lives Less Photographed exhibition.

Introduction panel

Willow Cottages, c1935
Willow Cottages, c1935

Lives Less Photographed reveals some of the rare photographs of Brighton’s working classes that are held in the collections of Brighton & Hove Museums. The photographs displayed on the outer walls of this gallery are survey images taken to record areas of poor quality housing considered for demolition. Regarded as ‘slums’, the poverty in these areas rivalled the poorest areas of the east end of London. But these ‘slums’ were also home to many working class families with strong roots in the town.

The photographs displayed on the inner cases are images of Brighton’s working communities in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Many of these show local fishermen at work, reflecting Brighton’s longest standing industry. Some comment upon the appalling living conditions of many of the town’s residents. Others show this poverty as a subject of entertainment.

All of these photographs share one feature in common: they were taken by outsiders looking in. The photographer was not part of the life that he or she was recording. How did these people feel about being photographed? Did they regard it as an intrusion? Or were they flattered by the attention?

Vawdrey panel

In the 1930s, Brighton Corporation demolished many of the poorest parts of town. The Greenwood Act 1930 provided local councils with funds to clear large areas of poor quality housing and build new homes in their place. Many of these houses had been built over 100 years previously, from the cheapest materials available. They were usually small and crowded into narrow streets and courts. Extended families often lived under a single roof with no running water and a toilet shared between several homes. Bugs vermin thrived in such conditions, and this attracted the concern of the Corporation’s Environmental Health department.

In 1935, the department commissioned Vawdrey Studio to photograph the areas considered for clearance. The photographs were intended to serve as technical documents recording the poor sanitation in the houses surveyed. The resulting prints are often strangely beautiful. They seldom focus on the condition of individual houses. Many are carefully composed views along a street. Often, the Vawdrey camera lingers on everyday objects belonging to the inhabitants of the houses. Although these people are rarely the focus of the shot, they can often be seen peering at the photographer from the margins.

Little is known of Vawdrey Studio. The firm was based at 16a Dyke Road and owned by Frank Williams. Williams had been active as a professional photographer in Brighton since 1928, and traded under the Vawdrey name from 1930 until early 1940s. As it is likely that Williams would have used one or more assistants, we do not know for certain who took these photographs. Nor do we know why the photographer chose to present these areas in such a surprising way. Do they make poverty seem picturesque?

 

Labels

Unknown photographerMarket outside Brighton Town Hall, c1896

 

Inkjet print reproduction of original gelatine silver print

 

The area around the present Town Hall was regularly used for markets, from the early 18th century until the closure of the Market Street hall in 1938. In the 19th century, some of the poorer traders would operate from handcarts outside of the Town Hall. Although this photograph appears to be focused on the Town Hall, the composition draws the eye towards the nonchalant young man in the centre foreground.

 

BH400102

Edward Fox JuniorFishermen on Brighton beach, early 1860s

 

Inkjet print reproductions of original albumen prints

 

Edward Fox Junior was the son of a successful landscape painter. Fox Junior also trained as a painter before turning to photography in the late 1850s. Advertising as a ‘landscape and architectural photographer’, Fox produced numerous views of Brighton beach. His photographs of Brighton’s fishermen at work are some of the oldest surviving views of a local working class community.

 

BH400129, BH400130, BH400131, BH400134,

 

 

The fishermen are often incidental features of Fox’s photographs. Even where they are the main focus of the image, they are often portrayed as a feature of the landscape. What the fishermen thought of these photographs is unrecorded. The photograph of the three men working on the capstan is clearly posed, suggesting that they agreed to be photographed. But in some cases the fishermen can be seen with their backs to the camera, even though their colleagues are clearly watching the photographer.
Unknown photographerCumberland Place, c1870

 

Inkjet print reproduction of original albumen print

 

“Here our reformers come not; none object

To pavements dangerous, or upbraid neglect;

None care that ashy heaps at doors are cast,

That coal dust flies along the blinding blast;

None heed the gutter foul on either side,

Where new-launched ships of infant sailors ride.”

 

BHTMP400164

 

 

Unknown photographerDerby Place, c1870

 

Inkjet print reproduction of original albumen print

 

“Here the low beershop’s open doors invite

Laborious men to taste their coarse delight;

And here and there a lodging house is fixed,

With sexes, families, and ages mixed.

Here need and misery, vice and danger bind

In sad alliance each degraded mind.”

 

BHTMP400165

Unknown photographerThomas Street, c1870

 

Inkjet print reproduction of original albumen print

 

“Here half-clad children round the alley run

And roll’d in dust are bronzed beneath the sun;

Here hungry dogs from hungry urchins steal;

Here pigs and chickens quarrel for a meal;

Here sicklied infants wail without redress,

And all is want, and woe, and wretchedness.”

 

BHTMP400166