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Art and Grime at Shoreditch High Street

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The East End of London lies just beyond 'The City' - the City of London of the banks and businesses and the investment bankers, the money and the riches, the swanky glass and steel monoliths and the Gherkin...the typical, the most famous imagery of London as the world knows it - just beyond it is the rundown, derelict, grimey borough of Hackney. Known equally for its ghettos and youth gangs as its art scene, Hackney is an Ethnographer's delight. The East End, in fact is one of the main concentrations for London's contemporary art scene and is as littered with studios and 'artsy types' - the 'Shoreditch twats' of popular culture, as it is with crumbling old buildings, juvenile criminals and wastrels and graffiti.

No wonder then, I wanted to click it.

My first 'brush' with Shoreditch was when I was a postgraduate student of city design and social science two years back. I was interviewing Bangladeshi business owners at Spitalfields and Bethnal Green - both just off the Shoreditch High Street. That was an intimidating experience, because I was unnerved by the rough surroundings, the scared or shy Bangladeshi women who refused to speak to me, the dawdling men who glared at me and my voice recorder as I exited the shops, and the repetitive mention of youth gangs by everyone I spoke to. But it also piqued my curiosity about the area because I got a whiff of the underground art , fashion and music scene as I walked the streets that day - more of an intruder than a flâneur then ; but a flâneur today when I walked into Shoreditch High Street with my camera, not to talk or intervene; instead to quietly experience and capture the street and re-tell the story of it here.

click on pictures to enlarge

Shoreditch High Street on www.flaneurbanite.blogspot.com

One of the first things that strikes you as you walk from Bishopsgate towards Shoreditch High Street is the stark and almost abrupt change in the urban views and the environment - right across a simple traffic signal. The glittering, gleaming City towers over Shoreditch like a benevolent giant, yet how far it feels from you depends on which side of Norton Folgate you are.

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The second thing I realised was that I wasn't the only photographer around.

Shoreditch High Street on www.flaneurbanite.blogspot.com

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And then you see it. The dichotomy of the old and new - the feeble signs of gentrification that are trying to come into their own amongst the derelict roughness, and only barely succeeding.

Shoreditch High Street on www.flaneurbanite.blogspot.com

Shoreditch High Street on www.flaneurbanite.blogspot.com

Shoreditch High Street on www.flaneurbanite.blogspot.com

Shoreditch High Street on www.flaneurbanite.blogspot.com

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And then there is the quirkiness of street art - where else but the East End?

Shoreditch High Street on www.flaneurbanite.blogspot.com
Yes - those are real Tube engines!

Shoreditch High Street on www.flaneurbanite.blogspot.com
Right outside the Shoreditch Church, urging you to be...er... rude.

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This last picture was clicked on Rivington Street, which turned out to be an exciting bohemian delight. I am saving that for another post!

That's the thing with Shoreditch, every other street will bring surprising signs of gentrification in the middle of the squalor. A large number of old buildings and warehouses have been converted into studios and offices now, from which artists, musicians, designers and fashionistas operate. I need to befriend somone who lives here! There's Hoxton, which is known for it's vintage and cheap fashion market, there's Fashion Street where upcoming designers sell their stuff, there's Spitalfields, Smithfields Market, Bangla Town, Bethnal Green... for me, that means a whole lot of flânerie for the future and for you, a whole lot of pictures and stories.

Do keep dropping in. :)

6 comments so far:

bangalore photoblog said...

This blog is becoming a super treat for desktop travellers like me!

And what an interesting place. And I have a feeling that you will be going back for more about this place!

And I loved the pics! Mast C'girl!

Flaneurbanite said...

Thanks!:) I'm certainly going back - several times over.

surajit said...

The last picture is my favourite. But I do love them all :)

Flaneurbanite said...

Thank you!:)

Shipra Chauhan said...

now this is a revelation. i love this view of london. love the text you wrote, the idea of juxtaposition. very very artsy!
whats the feel..bohemian or urban? or something else?

b rude is a specially beautiful one, and last pic is just surreal. great ending to keep us coming for more! :)

Flaneurbanite said...

Shipra: Thanks! I'm soon doing another post on this:) Shoreditch High Street is more urban decay than bohemian, with a slick veneer of gentrification trying to hold onto the crusty old street - but peep into some of the by-lanes or streets that shoot off it, and it is entirely another story. What story, you ask? Look out for the next post:)

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