'Hackney Studios' is a long-term project by East London resident and photographer, Jenny Lewis, now published by Hoxton Mini Press. Jenny spent four years exploring studios across Hackney, photographing the artists and makers who have defined the area. Painters, illustrators, filmmakers, jewellers, ceramicists and fashion designers all feature, inviting Jenny into their studios to share their spaces, and also their thoughts about the creative process.
Here, for the first time, Jenny shares her forward to the book and a selection of images:
Text by Jenny Lewis
I saw Isobel Webster at a market stall, looking like a Pre- Raphaelite goddess, her red hair falling over a technicolor catsuit. I asked to photograph her at her studio and she agreed. Clues of her craft and life were scattered around her space: a gold bike helmet stashed on top of a cupboard, swatches of fabric and a stack of past patterns. The session flowed easily, both local to the area there was a simplicity and understanding to our interaction. At the end of the sitting I felt energised and wanted to do it all again. I invited her to suggest someone else to photograph, someone she thought intriguing, inspiring, someone remarkable she wanted to celebrate. She took me to Louise, who took me to Alex, who took me to Anna. And that’s how it all got started.
The names tumbled on for four years, I was addicted to the process. Often I was directed to someone unknown, but sometimes to someone whose work I knew well. Given that each person had been nominated by a colleague, an atmosphere of ease and trust was quickly forged. These portraits were taken as an insider not from the formal starting point when meeting a stranger.
I asked everyone to recommend one other person, but inevitably the rules were sometimes broken and when they suggested two people the ‘family tree’ would branch off. Very occasionally a thread would come to a natural end when no name was offered up. After many conversations, certain themes began to emerge about the gentrification of the area, the evictions and the lack of affordable studio space. Cities seem to demand change with little regard for individuals, punishing those loyal inhabitants who have seen it through rough times when no one else was interested. What is happening in Hackney is not unique, it’s being repeated in cities the world over.
The threads of loyalty and inspiration connecting people to one another was heart-warming; fine artists would nominate their assistants, students their tutors and designers would nominate performers. The usual art world hierarchies didn’t apply here, the selections had a humanity and a personal history giving the series a soul. The subjects move back and forth between the unknown and the more established, curating from within. They were free to drive the project in whatever direction they felt important. Occasionally people recommended someone because they particularly admired their work, but far more often it was out of respect for their whole ethos. It became clear that what creative people value in others first and foremost, is their integrity.
With personal work, even when you are portraying others it’s a search to understand yourself and your place in society. Hackney Studios has allowed me to explore my community, my own identity and allowed me to gather friends along the way.
'Hackney Studios' by Jenny Lewis, £20 is published by Hoxton Mini Press.