PICTURES OF THE ABYSS
PICTURES OF THE ABYSS
by Andrew Firth
A4 hardback, 142 landscape pages in full colour throughout.
In the early years of the twentieth century, London was a city of opposites. The affluent west of the city was prosperous and wealthy, but in contrast the east was an area of poverty, crime and disease. Life expectancy was low, and the streets were filled with the homeless, the destitute and the sick.
When the American author Jack London ventured into the East End in the summer of 1902 to research the hopeless living conditions so typical of the area, he was to witness such sights as the cramped living conditions in shabby Frying Pan Alley, the revolting menial tasks that inmates of the Whitechapel casual ward carried out to pay for a dismal bed and a frugal meal of bread and ‘skilly’. In his book “The People of the Abyss”, a written account of his experiences, he relayed the tale of Dan Cullen, a resident of one of Whitechapel’s municipal dwellings, whose worsening health had forced him to move into the old Temperance Hospital, near Euston station. Jack had witnessed the sorry sight of the homeless sheltering under Tower Bridge and others trying to sleep by the steps of Christ Church in Spitalfields. He had tasted coffee and tea that was close in appearance to dirty dishwater and bore little resemblance to anything his readers might have drunk, and he had seen desperately hungry men and women pawing their way through the filthiest of meat scraps outside a butcher’s shop in Aldgate. In short, he had, if only briefly, lived the life of one of the people of the abyss, and had witnessed the horrendous life that circumstance had forced them to endure.
As well as his vivid written descriptions of the East End, Jack London also photographed a considerable number of evocative scenes to complement the text. These well-known images have been frequently reprinted over the years, often to illustrate books about Jack the Ripper and the East End in general.
But where exactly were these photographs taken? Jack London gives very little detail about the locations, choosing to caption the images vaguely as “A house to let” or the similarly ambiguous “Where the children grow up”. What do these obscure places look like today, and is there anything left of the old workhouses and dwellings that Jack London captured in his photos.
The answers to these questions are revealed in “PICTURES OF THE ABYSS”, a new photographic coffee-table style book by Andrew Firth. Published by Mango Books, it follows a similar format to his highly acclaimed book “Ripperland”, with the result of several years research presented as a series of ‘then and now’ photo-montages with accompanying maps and modern-day comparison shots.
By using high quality scans of the original photographs from the Jack London archives (including some rare or previously unpublished images), and then superimposing them into their modern-day equivalent scenes, photographer and graphic designer Andrew Firth has created a unique visual survey of what now remains of the old ‘Abyss’. The book contains over sixty photo-montages and over 150 colour and monochrome photographs of the scenes as they appear today. The book also features a foreword written by tour guide and author Richard Jones.
Hardback, colour throughout.