Chris Schwarz was photographer-in-residence at the Albany 1971-1985.
In 1971 he joined the Combination at the Albany , as Photographer-in-Residence. The Combination, a fringe theatre company, had been brought into the Albany by visionary director Paul Curno. The Combination’s brief was to undertake a cultural development project in the community, and Chris began to document the life he saw around him in Deptford.
Deptford’s local docks had been closed since the early Sixties. I was the Combination’s resident writer and remember huge photographs appearing in shop windows, tower blocks and the thronging Deptford Market as Chris got to work. He was reflecting the community back to itself.
His images seemed to say that we are all heroes in our own stories. The images were of those who played, worked and lived in Deptford: scrap metal workers in breakers’ yards, children in adventure playgrounds as part of the Combination’s Play Schemes, totters on their carts, demonstrations in the streets, Millwall supporters cheering, market stall holders at their businesses. Then there were the bands that frequented the stage of the Albany: Dire Straits, The Fabulous Poodles, Dagarti Arts, The Realists, Debbie Bishop and Rough Edge, The Flying Pickets and Rubber Johnny.
It is clear that Chris’ subjects trusted the photographer who snapped the lives of this proud community and the world around it. Each image told its own story. When taking shots of Combination plays Chris never wanted actors posed for him. He preferred to shoot scenes in action.
His camera recorded fifteen years of the changing faces of Deptford and Lewisham as its multi-racial community grew, old and young. . The twin themes of social realism and contemporary culture were his focus. His work brought him to the attention of Time Out, The Guardian and the Independent. Photographs of the National Front march through Lewisham and the counter demonstration by local people championing harmony made front pages. Chris became an in-demand photo journalist.
Chris Schwarz’s Lewisham photographs have been recognised by the London Metropolitan Archive as an important visual history of the life of this community and the social history of London. The Heritage Lottery has funded Chris’ archive and the Art of Regeneration project to digitise and exhibit it and to conduct oral history interviews. The Deptford Stories Company created a documentary theatre piece based on these oral history interviews with some of Chris’ subjects. The show and this archive, Every Picture Tells a Story, supported exhibitions of Chris’ photographs of Deptford and Lewisham life which have been mounted at the Albany Café, Lewisham Library and Southwark and Lewisham College.
He wore green clogs, blue denim bib and brace, a collarless shirt and with his ginger hair and beard looked like a technicolor Vincent Van Gogh in monochrome Seventies Deptford. Yet Deptford, which has always appreciated an individual, claimed him as one of its own and stood proudly having its pictures taken.
By John Turner, a member of The Combination.