Berkoff’s photographs capture the dying days of London’s old East End

Steven Berkoff: Photo by Hattie Miles

Director, actor and playwright Steven Berkoff knows a thing or two about the East End. He was born there 75 long years ago, a mere barrow boy’s shout from the chic Thames-side studio that is now his artistic base.

Yes the East End has changed and so too has Berkoff who fought his way from unpromising beginnings as the son of a Russian Jewish tailor  to produce a radical body of theatrical work that has brought him both widespread acclaim and a certain degree of notoriety.

These days he’s recognised as a creative giant of the theatre, equally at home producing hard-hitting avant garde drama, adapting Shakespeare, Kafka and Sophocles or writing his own critically acclaimed original plays. He also has a parallel career as a Hollywood movie actor of course having appeared in a curious mixture of movies that include  A Clockwork Orange, Octopussy, Rambo, Beverly Hills Cop and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

It’s all a long, long way from  the now lost world that Berkoff grew up in. Happily when he was just 11-years-old  and kicking around the streets of Stepney someone gave him a camera. It sparked a lifelong interest in photography and a few years later when he acquired an enlarger and learnt how to print his own pictures, he was ready to go.

Armed with a second-hand Rolleiflex, Berkoff started photographing the people and places of the old East End – the markets, the street sellers, the potpourri of cultures brought to the area by immigrants.

By the 60s and 70s it became all too apparent that the bagel-sellers, chicken-slaughterers and other colourful characters that were the life and soul of East End London were slowly but surely disappearing. Berkoff’s photographs captured the last gasp of an era.  “I felt I had to record it before it vanished forever,” he says.

Happily the pictures – now so historically important – have survived and have just been publishing in the book  East End Photographs. There is also an exhibition of his prints which is currently showing at Lucy Bell Fine Art in East Sussex.

You can see ‘Steven Berkoff – East End Photographs’ at Lucy Bell Fine Art, St Leonards-on-Sea, until 21 Feb 2013. For book sales:

Playing Jesus Christ lands actor Robert Powell with centre seat at the ultimate supper table

Playing Jesus Christ for Franco Zeffirelli 35 years ago has clearly paid dividends for actor Robert Powell. He’s been placed in the central position in photographer Alistair Morrison’s Actors Last Supper which is on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

Powell has been a stalwart of stage and screen for the past 40 years and has forged a reputation for the sheer breadth of his talents. Equally adept at high-brow and populist material, he has made critically acclaimed appearances for not just Zeffirelli but also directors like  Ken Russell who cast him in the title role in Mahler.

Robert Powell: Photo Hattie Miles
Robert Powell: Photo Hattie Miles

However Powell is just as happy  playing knockabout sit-com with his mate Jasper Carrott or appearing in popular TV dramas like  Holby City. He recently joined the cast of the latest West End production of the hit musical Singin’ in the Rain too. No wonder  Morrison chose him as one of the 13 leading British actors and directors he used to recreate, photographically, Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic 15th Century painting The Last Supper.

Morrison, who over the past 30 years has photographed everyone from Bette Davis to Laurence Olivier, used  a cast that in addition to Powell included Steven Berkoff, Anthony Andrews, Simon Callow, Tom Conti, Peter Eyre, Sir Richard Eyre, Colin Firth, Sir Michael Gambon, Tim Piggott-Smith, Sir Antony Sher, John Alderton and Julie Walters

The portrait, which is over three metres long, was originally among images created to raise funds for a childrens charity through Variety’s Hidden Gems project. It has now been acquired for The National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.

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