Jason Wilde

Photographs / Vera & John

Vera & John


Vera, the youngest of three girls, was born on July 7th 1940 in Somers Town in the London Borough of Camden. A few days after her 14th birthday she started her first full time job on a production line in a biscuit factory. Vera then went on to work in a needle factory, a lightbulb factory and after a short stint checking football pools, she juggled a number of part-time cleaning jobs with motherhood.

John, the second youngest of 9 children, was born on September 28th 1938 in Penrith, Cumbria. In 1942 his parents divorced and John was sent to a boys home where he stayed until 1953. In the same year John started full time employment cleaning steam engines for British Rail. At 21 he transferred from Carlisle to London where he was promoted to a railway Fireman, shovelling up to three tone of coal a day into a steam locomotives firebox. After five years as a Fireman John became a Train Driver, retiring in 2004 as a Train Driver / Train Driver Instructor.

Three years after they met in 1960 Vera and John married and moved into their first home in Somers Town; a ‘two room gas & electric’ in Polygon Buildings that shared a doorless washroom housing three concrete sinks, three cold taps and three toilets, with five other homes on their landing. Their second home was on the same street as Polygon Buildings, while their third and current home is a stone’s throw from both, and is where their three children grew up.

Vera and John are my mum and dad and the idea of making a project about them came to me while visiting their house in 2005. With no one home I had a rummage through the fridge and food cupboards before making a nice cup of tea. Leaning against the wall next to the kettle was a message written on the back of a used envelope outlining the evenings dinner arrangements.

That first note became ‘Vera & John’, a collection of still-life montages made with a photograph of a note layered over a photograph of a paving stone. Without Vera’s knowledge and with the help of John, between 2005 and 2014 I collected 112 similar notes that focus on the general comings and goings of their day-to-day lives. Always written on the backs of used envelopes, these private notes are a mix of instructions, statements and requests that offer a intimate take on London’s working class culture and outline Vera and John’s mutually supportive roles within a close-knit family.

The paving stones were photographed on sites that have a connection to Vera and John. These colourful, quarried slabs of imported Yorkshire stone trace the experiences of five (possibly more) generations of Vera and John’s family in and around Somers Town, mapping the streets where their lives have played-out over the last 100 years in the London Borough of Camden.

Richard West, Editor, Source Magazine - Vera & John Book Review - Summer 2017

How should we live? How do we weigh the values and ideals that give meaning to our existence against the external pressures and daily routines that shape our day to day lives? Can the bonds that draw us to one another and keep us there weather the violence of the antipathies that antagonise and push us apart? And if society tells us that we must be and do certain things in order to be properly human, what do we become when we strip the complex business of living back to its most basic elements?

Vera and John are the parents of photographer Jason Wilde. They married in 1963, had three children, and have lived in London’s Somers Town area for more than 50 years. Between 2005 and 2014, Wilde collected over one hundred notes that Vera is in the habit of leaving for John. Scribbled on the back of envelopes, Vera’s notes tell John of her comings and goings (‘gone up the town wont be long…’), remind him of plans for the evening meal (‘steak and chips for dinner’ … ‘wash some mushrooms’ … ‘put the dumplings in the slow cooker’) or gently chide him (‘the blind is upstairs in the bedroom one for sitting room big window, don’t put it up upside down or inside out I know what your like put your glasses on …’).

Vera & John tells the story of a long, loving relationship, of family and friendship and a traditional working-class way of life. ‘Family albums deal with the rites of passage, the celebrations,’ Wilde remarks. ‘This is about those bits in between that everyone can relate to.’ In an age of electronic messaging, handwritten missives like Vera’s are increasingly rare. Her brief messages may be a ‘celebration of the mundane’, as Wilde quips, but they also a poignant record of the way that smaller intimacies add up to much more than the sum of their parts.

Praise for Vera & John

  • “A moving and important project” Greg Hobson
  • “A wonderful project with my 3 favourite L’s - language, love and London” Karen McQuaid, curator, the Photographers Gallery
  • “Probably the sweetest, funniest book published so far this year”.
  • “Truly lovely, the bits of life and love that get forgotten”.
  • “A fab potrait of family life. Written on the back of everyday envelopes, Vera leaves notes to John. Funny, ordinary, addictive & touching!”
  • “I laughed out loud at the note about the barbecue bar! Brilliant idea for a book”.
  • “Absolutely wonderful. The whole thing made me smile—a lot”.
  • “Thank god there’s always the real world. It has become so easy to forget that”.
  • “Lovely idea for a book. We should all do this. Before we self delete. Is there a way to save and print our texts?”
  • “Absolutely, Beautiful Idea. Beautiful Life”.
  • “Your history, our history, London ‘istory”
  • “Anyone who can’t see the warmth and family values I feel sort of sad for. This is real family lucky for them”.
  • “Vera & John - a reminder that life, like love, is in the little things!”
  • “Delighted to receive my copy! Thank you and well done to Jason Wilde I couldn’t wait to read it and it brought tears to my eyes as I thought about the notes on scrap paper that me and my mum and dad used to communicate with before mobile phones! Wish I’d kept them”

Vera & John Bio

  • 2017, Published by Butchers Hook Books
  • 2017, Source
  • 2017, V&A Art Library
  • 2017, Photomonitor
  • 2017, Athens Photo Festival
  • 2017, BBC Radio London, Robert Elms Show
  • 2017, The Guardian on Saturday
  • 2017, Photobook Show, St Petersburg
  • 2017, Photobook Show, Brighton
  • 2017, Moose On The Loose
  • 2017, Thats Not My Age
  • 2017, The Woman’s Room

Vera & John


Vera, the youngest of three girls, was born on July 7th 1940 in Somers Town in the London Borough of Camden. A few days after her 14th birthday she started her first full time job on a production line in a biscuit factory. Vera then went on to work in a needle factory, a lightbulb factory and after a short stint checking football pools, she juggled a number of part-time cleaning jobs with motherhood.

John, the second youngest of 9 children, was born on September 28th 1938 in Penrith, Cumbria. In 1942 his parents divorced and John was sent to a boys home where he stayed until 1953. In the same year John started full time employment cleaning steam engines for British Rail. At 21 he transferred from Carlisle to London where he was promoted to a railway Fireman, shovelling up to three tone of coal a day into a steam locomotives firebox. After five years as a Fireman John became a Train Driver, retiring in 2004 as a Train Driver / Train Driver Instructor.

Three years after they met in 1960 Vera and John married and moved into their first home in Somers Town; a ‘two room gas & electric’ in Polygon Buildings that shared a doorless washroom housing three concrete sinks, three cold taps and three toilets, with five other homes on their landing. Their second home was on the same street as Polygon Buildings, while their third and current home is a stone’s throw from both, and is where their three children grew up.

Vera and John are my mum and dad and the idea of making a project about them came to me while visiting their house in 2005. With no one home I had a rummage through the fridge and food cupboards before making a nice cup of tea. Leaning against the wall next to the kettle was a message written on the back of a used envelope outlining the evenings dinner arrangements.

That first note became ‘Vera & John’, a collection of still-life montages made with a photograph of a note layered over a photograph of a paving stone. Without Vera’s knowledge and with the help of John, between 2005 and 2014 I collected 112 similar notes that focus on the general comings and goings of their day-to-day lives. Always written on the backs of used envelopes, these private notes are a mix of instructions, statements and requests that offer a intimate take on London’s working class culture and outline Vera and John’s mutually supportive roles within a close-knit family.

The paving stones were photographed on sites that have a connection to Vera and John. These colourful, quarried slabs of imported Yorkshire stone trace the experiences of five (possibly more) generations of Vera and John’s family in and around Somers Town, mapping the streets where their lives have played-out over the last 100 years in the London Borough of Camden.

Richard West, Editor, Source Magazine - Vera & John Book Review - Summer 2017

How should we live? How do we weigh the values and ideals that give meaning to our existence against the external pressures and daily routines that shape our day to day lives? Can the bonds that draw us to one another and keep us there weather the violence of the antipathies that antagonise and push us apart? And if society tells us that we must be and do certain things in order to be properly human, what do we become when we strip the complex business of living back to its most basic elements?

Vera and John are the parents of photographer Jason Wilde. They married in 1963, had three children, and have lived in London’s Somers Town area for more than 50 years. Between 2005 and 2014, Wilde collected over one hundred notes that Vera is in the habit of leaving for John. Scribbled on the back of envelopes, Vera’s notes tell John of her comings and goings (‘gone up the town wont be long…’), remind him of plans for the evening meal (‘steak and chips for dinner’ … ‘wash some mushrooms’ … ‘put the dumplings in the slow cooker’) or gently chide him (‘the blind is upstairs in the bedroom one for sitting room big window, don’t put it up upside down or inside out I know what your like put your glasses on …’).

Vera & John tells the story of a long, loving relationship, of family and friendship and a traditional working-class way of life. ‘Family albums deal with the rites of passage, the celebrations,’ Wilde remarks. ‘This is about those bits in between that everyone can relate to.’ In an age of electronic messaging, handwritten missives like Vera’s are increasingly rare. Her brief messages may be a ‘celebration of the mundane’, as Wilde quips, but they also a poignant record of the way that smaller intimacies add up to much more than the sum of their parts.

Praise for Vera & John

  • “A moving and important project” Greg Hobson
  • “A wonderful project with my 3 favourite L’s - language, love and London” Karen McQuaid, curator, the Photographers Gallery
  • “Probably the sweetest, funniest book published so far this year”.
  • “Truly lovely, the bits of life and love that get forgotten”.
  • “A fab potrait of family life. Written on the back of everyday envelopes, Vera leaves notes to John. Funny, ordinary, addictive & touching!”
  • “I laughed out loud at the note about the barbecue bar! Brilliant idea for a book”.
  • “Absolutely wonderful. The whole thing made me smile—a lot”.
  • “Thank god there’s always the real world. It has become so easy to forget that”.
  • “Lovely idea for a book. We should all do this. Before we self delete. Is there a way to save and print our texts?”
  • “Absolutely, Beautiful Idea. Beautiful Life”.
  • “Your history, our history, London ‘istory”
  • “Anyone who can’t see the warmth and family values I feel sort of sad for. This is real family lucky for them”.
  • “Vera & John - a reminder that life, like love, is in the little things!”
  • “Delighted to receive my copy! Thank you and well done to Jason Wilde I couldn’t wait to read it and it brought tears to my eyes as I thought about the notes on scrap paper that me and my mum and dad used to communicate with before mobile phones! Wish I’d kept them”

Vera & John Bio

  • 2017, Published by Butchers Hook Books
  • 2017, Source
  • 2017, V&A Art Library
  • 2017, Photomonitor
  • 2017, Athens Photo Festival
  • 2017, BBC Radio London, Robert Elms Show
  • 2017, The Guardian on Saturday
  • 2017, Photobook Show, St Petersburg
  • 2017, Photobook Show, Brighton
  • 2017, Moose On The Loose
  • 2017, Thats Not My Age
  • 2017, The Woman’s Room


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