Photofusion Member | Claudia Leisinger

On the 28th April 2012, a centuries-old way of life came to an end as the porters, who have been in existence since Billingsgate started trading in 1699, had their licenses withdrawn by the City of London Corporation. Long-established rights and working practices – and a vibrant culture handed down for generations – were all swept away overnight to be replaced by cheaper casual labour.

Thus, a cut in economic cost was achieved through an increase in human cost by degrading the workforce at the market. The City recognised the potential value of the land occupied by the Billingsgate fish market at the foot of the Canary Wharf Towers, and the abolition of the porters was the first step toward moving it out and redeveloping the site.

© Claudia Leisinger: Billingsgate Market, London 2011. From the series ‘The Last Of The Billingsgate Fish Porters’

My interest in the Billingsgate porters’ story stems from a fascination with the disappearance of manual labour; work generally considered menial by our society, yet carried out with a great deal of pride and passion by those small communities involved. These groups often functioned as their own micro-cultures; by eradicating them, longstanding heritage and identity disappears.

I have spent my early childhood in India and Bhutan, before returning to my native Switzerland. In 2007 I completed an MA course in Photojournalism at the London College of Communication with the story “Bhutan, A Country In Transition”, which documented Bhutan’s shift towards its first-ever democratic elections. This was published in Swiss national newspaper NZZ.

At present I work as freelance portrait and documentary photographer for NGOs and magazines such as the Big Issue and The Telegraph Magazine but mostly I pursue my own projects, focusing on issues such as migration (the UK’s Iraqi refugee crisis), changes in work practice and the disappearance of manual labour (The Last of the Billingsgate Fish Porters, Grave Diggers in South London and disappearing marble production in Pietra Santa, Italy), religious beliefs (the Kalachakra Buddhist teachings in South India).