Vintage 80s: Life on the streets

  • 12 September 2011
  • From the section In Pictures
  • comments
"Woman trapped in traffic jam at Hyde Park"

Time passes and society and places change, yet we often don't notice or overlook the visual clues we see everyday.

But, by always carrying a camera and recording those daily encounters, Johnny Stiletto managed to capture a very personal view of life on the streets of London in the 1980s.

Those of you who follow this blog may remember a post on Johnny Stiletto's book, Shots from the Hip back in 2009; well now there's a new collection of his work, a book entitled Vintage 80s which brings together about 160 street shots.

Image caption Johnny Stiletto: "Little boy and a Rolls Royce. On the corner of Berkeley Square and Bruton Street at Jack Barclay's they sell velvet collar dreams."

As before though, the photographs are interspersed with his comments and thoughts on the moment, or the wider situation.

His work links together the news events of the time with the personal. To me they seem like frames from black and white dreams rather than someone else's photographs.

The pictures depict a time when London cast off the final remnants of post-war grey where you could still find, and indeed park on, former bomb sites, to the beginning of what was to become modern London. I asked Johnny if he felt the change at the time.

"There was a big political wrench in 1979 and this worked its way through the 80s," he said.

"I was watching Covent Garden change, the IRA bombing campaign and changes in the shift of power and the social rules of prosperity. I was also aware that the old Lavender Hill Mob, Ealing Comedies London, was dying and I tried to capture as much of that old disappearing, often very funny, traditional culture."

Image caption Johnny Stiletto: "Fag in the right hand, mac in the left, blonde in the middle."

His pictures incorporate lots of text - in posters, newspaper headlines and so on - which help with the narrative. But, he said, this wasn't intentional.

"If you're shooting a very intense photographic diary over a long period this tends to open up shots you wouldn't normally take, but then once you start going for text you realise it's a very punchy, interesting, under worked source of material.

"A good way of recording social and historical milestones and the emotions of the time."

He added: "Every time I shot something interesting I put it to one side in a large storage chest. As I was editing these down they suggested stories or topics such as fashion, politics, music, social change, Londoners and so on. I then used the topics to edit the shots."

Image caption Johnny Stiletto: "This is David Frost and this is the cigar butt end of a lunch in Soho... And now it's the ritual scrabbling around for pens, phone numbers and bits of paper. Get your girl to phone my girl."

Johnny's introduction in the book provide a feeling for the inspiration behind the work:

"There are two zoos in London. One is in Regent's Park and the other is everywhere else... London is one size fits all," he wrote. "Mick Jagger slips unnoticed across Piccadilly with his manager who's wearing an MCC tie... London's fashions and styles are changing... A city of talent, hope ambition and tribal zones."

Image caption Johnny Stiletto: "Francis Bacon and John Edwards in Dean Street, Soho."

Add to this his photographic influences who were initially a clutch of European photographers: Willy Ronis, Brassai and Robert Doisneau.

"Lartigue, who photographed his life from the Edwardian era onwards and though he wasn't the original inspiration for the diary, I did find him very encouraging," he said. "Robert Frank is another inspiration, particularly the way he used Jack Kerouac to write the text for his book, The Americans."

Image caption Johnny Stiletto: "A book called Spycatcher written by the former Assistant Director of MI5 Peter Wright, reveals intelligence secrets and is banned in the UK. Entrepreneurs get a ticket to Calais, a boxful of books and a pitch in the street."
Image caption Johnny Stiletto: "Ra-ra Skirt Ok Ya."
Image caption Johnny Stiletto: Tourist trousers."

Vintage 80s: London Street Photography by Johnny Stiletto is published by Francis Lincoln on 15 September 2011.