Forgotten streets

The sterilisation of Britain’s once colourful highstreets continues at unstoppable rate. A very sad but not unfamiliar story we are told will end in the obliteration of choice and independence on a highstreet near you.

Author Gwyn Headley, a specialist in Britain’s architectural heritage, is looking for help in capturing streetscapes and unmodernised shopfronts and buildings in a bid to capture a permanent and continuing record of the changing highstreet.

Headley is looking for photographers to submit photographs to Fotolibra – an open access picture library – where an expanding archive will be developed. 

Gwyn Headley is calling on photographers to submit old images to Photolibra
Gwyn Headley is calling on photographers to submit old images to Photolibra

Referring to what he calls ‘clone-towns’ where ‘identikit chain stores are replacing independent shops and small businesses’, Headley says, ‘We want to build a national archive of images of our disappearing urbanised world, complete with shop windows, cars, fashions, hairstyles and even advertising billboards – all of which date the photograph to a specific moment in time; one which can never be re-captured.’

A traditional high street from Fotolibra's collection
A traditional high street from Fotolibra’s collection

The submission of historic photos is also encouraged – particularly those before 1980.

There is ‘hope’ that some highstreets will show themselves to be unmolested by change. Headley gives an example of Nantucket in Massachusetts, US where if a chain store has more than 14 branches, it can’t open. Hexham High Street in Northumberland is Britain’s most independent highstreet, he says.

From the Foto Libra collection
From the Fotolibra collection

Headley should probably take note of the London Street Photography exhibition which The Museum on London is hosting next year.

Focused on the evolution of street photography c1860-2010, work by photographers including John Thomson, Henry Grant and Roger Mayne will be on display alongside contemporary images.

by Henry Grant, 1967 (c) Henry Grant Collection, Museum of London
by Henry Grant, 1967 (c) Henry Grant Collection, Museum of London

‘Chance – a defining characteristic of street photography,’ is a common theme the museum says. This is easy to imagine from these preview images – snapshots of candid calm in chaos, which says just as much about the people who took them.

by Lutz Dille, c.1961(c) The Estate of Lutz Dille, Museum of London
by Lutz Dille, c.1961(c) The Estate of Lutz Dille, Museum of London

The photographers, their motivations and the social and cultural context are as much to discovered at the exhibition which runs from 18 February – 4 September 2011.

To get involved with the Fotolibra project visit www.fotoLibra.com.

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  • Gwyn Headley November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s Hexham, not Hanham, in Northumberland which has the most individualistic High Street. fotoLibra wants photographs of despoiled modern chain-store filled High Streets as much as the quaint, picturesque high street of unreliable memory.

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