Can you send the author your Brady Street recollections?
Many members of JEECS will know of the United Synagogue owned cemetery in Brady Street, a few hundred yards from the street’s junction with Whitechapel Road. . In 2011 the cemetery celebrated its 250th anniversary – having been founded in 1761 – with a ceremony attended by the then Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks.
At about the same time I was fortunate enough to get the support of the United Synagogue Burials Officer, Melvyn Hartog, to begin what became a 5-year photographic project inside the cemetery.
ALL PICTURES COPYRIGHT LOUIS BERK
My interest in the cemetery came about when I commenced working as a teacher at Swanlea School, with which it shares its southern boundary. One day early on in my tenure I looked out a window in the science block and could scarcely believe my eyes. I was looking down into an unmistakable Jewish burial ground. At lunch time the next day I scooted around to the gate and it was from the information I gained there that I was able to connect with Melvyn.
I must admit that when I enquired about doing the project I thought I would be allowed perhaps to visit the cemetery a few times but Melvyn sized me up and down and figured that if I was responsible enough to look after the future of children then I was responsible enough to have a key to the cemetery. This act of trust meant that I was able to let myself into the cemetery whenever I wanted to.
From the start I should explain that my interest in the cemetery is as a landscape photographer. Although there are many interesting headstones and a large number of them do figure in my photography my main interest is capturing what I consider to be a unique ecological environment in the heart of Whitechapel. With the exception of certain ‘cultivated’ areas of Victoria Park there are few natural areas left in Whitechapel.
The purpose of my photography has been to capture the seasonal changes in the cemetery with the headstones as the only permanent feature. I initially thought I would spend a year taking photographs at a regular interval (often very early in the morning before school, or later afterwards). But eventually, I was making special trips at the weekend and during school holidays just to make best use of light or capture specific seasonal events. After the first year I realised that the warm winter of 2011/12 meant that I had no pictures of frost or snow. So, I continued to shoot during the next year – and from there I never really stopped until early this year (2016).
In most cases I used film to capture the ambience of the environment. I believe this has given many of the photographs a timeless feel which digital photographs sometimes struggle to capture.
I would like to use the opportunity to publish my work here to ask JEECS members to help me to complete my work on the cemetery. I have secured a contract to publish my photographs of Brady Street and Alderney Road by Amberley, a small UK publishing house. I would very much like readers of JEECS who may have memories about Brady Street to submit to me their recollections so that I can collate them and present them in the book (which can be anonymously or if you want to be credited, by name). I believe this would add a lot to the record of Brady Street.
Perhaps this is the most important aspect of my work. In the five or so years I have been associated with the cemetery even I have noticed the effect of the passage of time on its fabric. In the last winter a tree collapsed and managed to destroy two headstones where it fell. My photograph is now the only surviving evidence and memory of those two headstones.
It would be a wonderful gift for future generations if we could leave some visual and written memories of this very special place.
Both these headstones were destroyed by a fallen tree in the winter of 2015
If you visit my website, www.louisberk.com and send me your recollections I would be very grateful. If you do not use the internet then if you can send them in writing to JEECS they will pass them on to me. I look forward to hearing from members of JEECS and their families.
Fog in Whitechapel
Water of life
Summer carpet of wildflowers
ALL PICTURES COPYRIGHT LOUIS BERK