Coinciding with the centenary this year of the death of London social reformer and industrialist Charles Booth, Keith Greenough exhibits and publishes Lifting the Curtain, a series that juxtaposes extracts from Booth’s accounts of the hardships of the Victorian East End with contemporary images of the spaces Booth surveyed.
Taken late at night and within the early hours, Greenough’s long exposures have a tonal and aesthetic coolness to them. The technically refined and pensive images invite the viewer to study the disquieting scenes with the same patience that the photographer exercised with the long exposure method, and perhaps with a scrutiny similar to Booth’s observations.
Although Greenough’s photographs depict streets that might seem at best uninviting, or at worst malevolent, they perhaps offer more a sense of exhaustion than fear: of worrying whether you are on the best side of the street to catch a cab to save yourself from a very long walk home after a hard night partying, rather than anxiety about being on the same side of the street as some unsavoury characters.
The absence of people in Greenough’s photographs is balanced by the appropriation of Charles Booth’s very detailed accounts of individuals he encountered and wrote about in his Life and Labour of the People (1889), who existed, he wrote, “… hidden from view behind a curtain on which were painted terrible pictures.”
Avoiding an illustrative approach to the juxtaposition of image and text, there is enough narrative within the images that speaks of the economy and social ecologies of contemporary East London, while leaving enough ambiguity within the images to interplay with the texts, and for viewers to contemplate the myriad changes and progress (or not) to the streets and populations of East London over the past century.
In the spirit of Charles Booth, Greenough is donating the proceeds of Lifting the Curtain to Toynbee Hall, whose vision is to eradicate all forms of poverty, and where Charles Booth conducted his survey from. Lifting the Curtain is part of Photomonth, East London Festival of Photography 2015:
Town House, 5 Fournier Street, London E1 6QE, from 15th – 25th October