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Spitalfields Nippers: Sometimes simple ideas are the best…

2015 April 19

new spitalfields nippers

I had seen some of the images in this lovely book before. I remember copying a reproduction of a girl holding a baby with a cat in the background windowsill in Anna Davin’s Growing up Poor. At that time I noted, as is my wont, that the cat was not discussed and I thought at some point I would do something with this. But time rolls on…

Although Spitalfields Nippers is ostensibly simply reproductions of photos taken of children in Spitalfields c. 1900 by Horace Warner the editing makes it much more than this. The clearly present companion animals in the photographs are noted in the introduction and help structure the organization of the images.

Also, what might have been clichéd images of anonymous street urchins are changed into moments in the lives of named humans.The photographer did name, as far as he could, the subject of the photographs.The editor’s fairly simple search of census returns and marriage and death certificates have created narratives of lives that go beyond the moment of the still image. These children who seem to live on into the present through their images that cross time are, of course, all long dead. Particularly poignant is the brief narrative of Tommy Nail pictured playing in a cart who was conscripted and died, like so many of his peers,in the 1914-18 war.Yet again, as I explored in London Stories, the much maligned approach of family and local historians, has provided additional layers of meaning.

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