'Hackney Studios' captures East London Vibe

New photo book documents Hackney's teeming community of artists and creatives

A CHANCE encounter at a market stall was the starting point for a new photo book that celebrates Hackney’s artistic community. 

Photographer Jenny Lewis was so inspired by her chat with a stranger that she wanted to document the artist and her workplace.

Jenny explains: “I thought her style was just amazing, so I asked if I could come and photograph her in her studio. That’s how it all got started.”

That one conversation was to spark a four-year project in which Jenny delved into studios across Hackney, photographing the painters, illustrators, filmmakers, jewellers, ceramicists and fashion designers who worked within them.

The result is ‘Hackney Studios’, a new book exploring not only the individual creativity of each artist featured on its pages, but also the creativity of Hackney itself, a borough that is home to more artists than anywhere else in Europe.

Yet as local writer Sophie Howarth says in the book’s introduction, most of this creative industry which gives Hackney so much character “takes place out of view, behind unassuming doors on residential streets, or tucked between make shift partitions inside former factories and warehouses”.

The book takes us inside these intriguing spaces. Down an alleyway just off Kingsland Road, for example, Tony Hornecker has created a home out of abandoned stage sets and assorted bric-a-brac. World record-holding hoola-hooper Marawa Wamp, meanwhile, uses the public square behind Dalston Kingsland station as her open air studio.

Jenny explains: “I wanted to open these worlds up to as many people as possible. I’d never been to a gallery before I was 18. Then I moved to Hackney at 21 and was awestruck by the creative scene.


“I worked my way inside it slowly, and now that I’m part of it, I wanted to inspire people like the young me, who have never heard of some of these jobs.”

As well as celebrating artistic life, however, the book also takes a realistic look at its challenges.

Jenny says: “Some of these artists are little known, others have really ‘made it’. But most of them are shivering in unheated studios. I didn’t want to gloss over the facts.”

In the book, many of the artists talk candidly about the daily grind of writing proposals, funding applications and emails, not floating glamorously around exhibitions.

“It can be a tough life, and the artistic community here is a fragile one. I’m scared it’s going to disappear, particularly in places like Hackney Wick where developers are moving in. But the book celebrates these people who have the bravery to go their own way,” Jenny says.

As she photographed each artist, she asked them to recommend another. She adds: “The threads of loyalty and inspiration connecting people to one another was heart-warming.

“Fine artists would nominate their assistants, students their tutors, and designers would nominate performers.”

Jenny hopes the book will spark the imaginations of young people, in particular.

“Hackney Studios has allowed me to explore my community, my own identity and allowed me to gather friends along the way,” she says.

Hackney Studios was published by Hoxton Mini Press on 6 April, and is available to purchase for £20.