By Niki Gorick
Reviewed by Martha Grekos
Sometimes you are given something so beautiful that words will not do justice to the work. And this is what I feel about Niki Gorick’s photographic book, which illustrates the rich mix of personalities and activities in St Katherine Docks, the Surrey Docks and the Isle of Dogs. This is not a historical book, but more a celebration of an area that has been regenerated, retaining a lot of its working heritage. This book examines through photography how these former pools of industry have been co-opted for new purposes and pastimes. The Foreword by Lord Heseltine notes that some changes would even surprise the London Docklands Development Corporation whose job was to put life back into these docks.
Her book is two years’ worth of photographs, capturing images that convey the extraordinary diversity of what is happening on the waters of London’s old docks. By flicking through the book, you will soon discover something you never knew existed. For instance, I was not aware of London’s floating church, St Peter’s Barge, which has been permanently moored on West India Quay since 2003 and has built up a popular following among those living and working in the Canary Wharf area. Nor was I aware of activities on Greenland Dock, such as the Surrey Docks Anglian club which campus overnight to take full advantage of their designated 48-hour slot to catch fish but also to be returned - a huge emphasis now on conserving the quality of both the water and fish.
What makes the book interesting is that those shiny offices and apartments of modern Docklands are only the backdrop. The focus is instead on the daily life of the people living and working on and around the water. I love the section on the maintenance of boats. The photos capture here this seemingly unending task that is carried out by lots of workmen and workwomen - whose personalities leap out of the pages. It shows that the old trades have not vanished completely. These photos are not just about the area but also about the community that lives, works and plays within it. As Niki Gorick says herself in the Preface, “The great commercial Port of London may have disappeared into history, but a twenty-first-century reincarnation means that life in many forms has returned”.
As a Londoner born and bred, I feel that I must have had my eyes closed every time I walked or cycled along these docks. This book certainly opened up my eyes to a varied life on the docks and also made me want to explore them even more. Niki Gorick has a good eye for detail and can touch the soul of an area and its community through her photographs and text. It is a beautiful book all around and I am sure many would be delighted to have it on their coffee table at home or in their office.