10 July 2012

One Road, One Eye

Charing Cross Road, London, 1937

Charing Cross Road, London
A series of photographs

Milkman, Charing Cross Road, London, 193(-?)

You never seem to see milkmen around these days, and especially not dressed like this. I like the look of the blazer worn over the apron. It would be an odd combination to see today, but here it is a practical and unassuming detail. The peak lapel of the blazer is a nice touch.

Charing Cross Road, London, 1937

Notice the man on the far left of the shot - that coat unbuttoned but folded over in front of him; the curve of the shoulder given by the raglan sleeve; the book tucked away under his arm. I have yet to buy a long coat, but this is the type I would like to find. I think the loose and easy fit of his coat is quite charming, especially the way the sleeves sit. I am thinking something similar in a relatively thin wool (with a lined interior), or a heavy cotton, would be ideal. An old Y's coat may just be the answer.

Knife Grinder, Charing Cross Road, London, 1937

This man is a knife grinder. He sharpened knives. For a living. A job that would provide the perfect cover for an assassin aside (it would be such an obvious cover you would probably overlook it and suspect the book seller or something, thus making it the perfect bluff), I really like the look of his hat and coat. The slightly rumpled brim and the pockets filled to sagging. It is something that one finds with most work uniforms from this era, in that his clothing fits his life, and for me that is beautiful.

Paving, Charing Cross Road, London, 1936

The cap, the undershirt, the cuffed trousers, the boots - rugged practicality and simplicity. As much as this look would have been seen as uncouth for walking around town, here it is acceptable by dint of setting and activity. There is something about it that I find incredibly stylish. I am never quite comfortable using the term stylish, because it is technically a very subjective term, yet one that is often masked behind an ostensibly objective layer. I can say that something looks beautiful, and that is clearly my opinion, but for me when somebody says that someone looks stylish, it invariably seems to assume that the person measures up to some universally accepted standard of 'good style'. Beauty is an incredibly personal concept, albeit one that is often shared by many, and though the valuation of style is similar, to call something stylish is different to calling something beautiful. I think perhaps it has to do with the system of fashion, in that the perception of style will always be tinted by the cycle of fashion far more than the perception of beauty (although that too inevitably changes depending on period and society - and indeed amongst various elements of society itself). 

Paving, Charing Cross Road, London, 1936
The flat cap, pale shirt, waistcoat, wide cut trousers. For a time a working class uniform known across the world, especially around the Mediterranean, and for me it conjures up images mostly of Turkey (see my post on Ara Güler's photographs of Istanbul here). It is odd to consider that the gentlemen here are dressed in almost exactly the same way their counterparts in Turkey would have dressed, and yet the style of dressing is almost worlds apart. It is hard to describe, but for the latter it is instantly recognizable, classically Turkish in its take on European clothing, and thus more than simply a working class uniform. Clothing takes on different meanings depend on context, and I think this would be a perfect case in point.

Paving, Charing Cross Road, London, 1936

The fabric. The drape. The fit. I like seeing light play between the folds of fabric in black and white, it gives a great depth and sense of drama to the garments.

Wyndham's Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London, 1934 

Here I am more interested in the textures of the wall than the people to be honest. The way the light hits their clothing is too clean, they look too polished. They need something slightly askew or rumpled, because perfection is boring in humans.

Shoe Shine, Charing Cross Road, London, 1936

A well dressed couple. Always a nice sight. I love the fact that the shoe shiner is also wearing a hat, suit and boots. I wish there was a photograph of him from the other side as it would be interesting to compare the details.

Charing Cross Road, London, 1937

My eye is here drawn not to the woman that is the focus of the shot, but the man to the right just out of focus. There is something about the casualness of his look that I really enjoy - the fit of the jacket, with the slight pull from the two buttons done up, flaring away at the hips; the low and open collar of his shirt; the tip of something peeking out from his breast pocket.

Milkman, Charing Cross Road, London, 1935

It is cold, it is windy, it is wet. You need a coat, a proper coat, to keep you warm and dry. I like how hefty and substantial his coat looks. I am rather taken by the folds captured by the light in the bottom right. This is the type of coat you know will serve you even when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Clothing to live with.

Charing Cross Road, London, 1937



  1. this was a wonderfully charming post chap, really sweet and some great images with the details picked right out of them. i agree, i love this time and see what people are dressed in, the subtle differences between classes are countries. it's fascinating.

    the shot with the lady with her back to us, the chap on the right that you mentioned looks like he could be the time traveller, he looks super modern from that angle. even the hair

  2. What beautiful pictures! Even more beautiful is your reading/style take of each of them. You're such a wonderful writer!

    And thanks for stopping by my blog :)

  3. Enjoyed 1930's photos in London with your comments.I like Knife Grinder and Milk man's photos.

  4. Really wonderful photos Syed, what a find! The woman in the shoe shining image in particular has such an interesting look to her.xx

  5. Sam said:

    I loved your comment about the knife grinder. The man in question happens to be my grandfather I can assure you he was not an assasin, he was an Italian Immigrant, living in the Italian quarter of Clerkenwell and sharpening knives for much of Central London's high-end dining establishments. Thanks for showing it.