Running north from London’s Trafalgar Square to St Giles Circus lays Charing Cross Road, named by its local residents and christened by the Duke of Cambridge in 1887. Already renowned for its bookshops and further popularised by the opening of Foyles in 1906 (still resident at no.107 today), Charing Cross Road became a mecca for bookworms in the early twentieth century. Booksellers lined the street, from Antiquarian cabinets of curiosities such as Marks and Co. (immortalised by the 1970 film 84 Charing Cross Road), to crime and mystery specialists Murder One.
It is no wonder then that London’s literary hubbub caught the eye of Viennese documentary photographer and cinematographer, Wolfgang Suschitzky (1912-2016). Emigrating to the UK in 1935, Suschitzky found delight and inspiration in the concentration of such trade in one area, and soon started documenting everyday activity in and around Soho. He did so with his father in mind, who had established the first socialist bookshop in Vienna, and sadly passed away not long after Suschitzky’s arrival in Britain.
“When I first came to England in 1935, I was amazed to find that certain trades had a whole street to themselves, like Hatton Gardens full of jewellers and other streets full of clothing shops, and Charing Cross Road full of bookshops. They had second-hand books where people could rummage and find something to read, or find a first edition for sixpence. It was a beautiful street.”
– Wolfgang Suschitzky
It was these photographs that led Suschitzky to later work with the British documentarian and film critic, Paul Rotha (1907-1984), shooting feature length films such as No Resting Place (1951), photographed entirely on location.
Although Suschitzky was unable to find a publisher at the time, thirty years later German publishers, Nishen, saw the photographs exhibited and went on to publish Charing Cross Road in the 30s in 1989.
“These pictures have now become historical documents, really. You could see people in the café with their hats on, which they don’t often do nowadays… and characters such as the milkman delivering milk and presenting the weekly bill. All this sort of activity gave the atmosphere to the street.”
– Wolfgang Suschitzky
In the age of digitised literature and online ordering - and at the time of pandemic lockdown and societal quarantine - these filmic snapshots of the daily goings-on of tradespeople and curious souls remind us of the simple pleasures of finding a great book, catching up with a friend over coffee, and taking a slow stroll through the neighbourhood on a Saturday morning.
More than just historical documents, today these photographs continue to provide a sense of visual escapism and remind us of small things we can look forward to, observe, and cherish, just as the photographer did eight decades ago.
Alexandra Olczak, Print Sales Curator & Sales Advisor
Print Sales is pleased to offer lifetime silver gelatin prints from the Estate, from £2,800 + VAT. Click on the images above to enquire directly, and view further works by Wolfgang Suschitzky here.