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|Start Date:||2nd October 2008|
|End Date:||23rd November 2008|
With the credit crunch biting, Museum of London is looking back at one of the capitalís most treasured but endangered high street presences, the independent trader. Shutting Up Shop is a photographic tribute to the traditional small shop, seen through the lens of John Londei, who spent fifteen years recording these idiosyncratic establishments and the tales of the Londoners who inhabited them.
In 1972, Londei took a portrait of the Chemists underneath his Leather Lane studios, with its proprietors standing proudly behind their kaleidoscopic display counter of pills and potions. It marked the beginning of a fifteen year project which resulted in an extraordinary survey of a unique and largely forgotten part of our high streets. From button makers to ballet suppliers, fishmongers to foam retailers, magic shops to milliners, Londeiís photographs offer a parade of esoteric, eccentric but everyday spaces. Often passed through families for generations, and central to the communities they served, the businesses in these photographs have an anachronistic quality that predicts a sad but inevitable demise. Of the sixty shops Londei photographed, only seven were still trading when he retraced his steps in 2004.
Museum of Londonís display comprises 21 pictures taken from Shutting up Shop, Londeiís book of his small trader odyssey. And for the photographer, the shopkeepers themselves were vital to the portraits of the shops. 'To these people running the shop meant so much more than a business. Somehow it felt as if they'd turned the premises into living entities; and they themselves were cherished and long-serving members of the community. And how proud they were to still be serving it!'
From William Toms, at L. Cornelissen & Sonís Art Shop, who remembered sharing a conspiratorial wink with Walter Sickert, to Cyril Oliver of Oliverís Auto Parts, who was an assistant to fashion photographer John French and friends with David Bailey and Lord Snowdon before transforming his familyís sweet shop into a car spares business, Shutting up Shop gives a behind the counter view of life in the capital. Royalty and ragpickers alike bring their custom through the shop doors in the tales and recollections of Londeiís subjects, and patrons from all walks of London life haunt the photographs with their invisible presence. Sitting amongst their pens, umbrellas, buttons, clocks, scales, materials, cigars, hats, the retailers in this exhibition are real London characters, traders in the miscellany which incite the cityís curiosity and dealers of the stories which sustain its spirit.
The decline of Britain's traditional retailers, documented by Londei in the seventies and eighties, continues apace. In its 2006 report, the House of Commons painted a bleak picture of the future of the high street. The report estimated that if the steady demise of independent shops continued at its current rate, the majority of Britain's 26,800 independent retailers would be out of business by 2015. This somewhat dispiriting assessment makes the Museum of London display of Shutting up Shop a poignant and timely reminder of the value of small community shops and independent traders.
John Londei says: 'Shutting Up Shop is the fulfilment of a promise I made to those shopkeepers that, one day, they would be in a book. I never thought it would take so long to keep my promise. How thrilled they would have been had they also realised that their contribution to our nation's heritage, and a way of life now almost entirely vanished, would be acknowledged by Museum of London with this exhibition.í
Mike Seaborne, Senior Curator of Photographs at Museum of London says: ĎIn this series of photographs, taken during the 1970s and 1980s, Londei has recorded an aspect of urban life which has now sadly all but disappeared. What strikes the viewer, apart from the highly detailed descriptive quality of the photographs themselves (they were all taken with a 10Ēx 8Ē plate camera), is the strong sense of generational continuity represented by these small businesses and the anchorage within the community which that continuity engendered. These shops provided not just goods and services but points of reference in an ever-changing world of technological development and social dislocation.í