Photographer celebrates the shopkeepers of the Calder Valley

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A photographer is celebrating the independents of the Calder Valley in his new exhibition.

Twenty-One Shopkeepers in Hebden Bridge, by Gerard Liston, looks to reveal the “personalities behind the shop fronts” and included a portrait picture of business owners, as well as an accompanying statement about what makes the town special to them.

Gerard, who is the project manager for the restoration work at Hope Baptist Church, Hebden Bridge, said: “Hebden Bridge is tucked in among the hills of the Upper Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. Characterised by interest in the arts, alternative life styles, double-decker mill workers houses and great surrounding countryside, people also visit the place to explore the town’s surprisingly large number of independent shops.

“As a relative new-comer to the area (a mere nine years), I initially saw the shops as a quaint echo of past times and a curiosity for visitors or maybe a convenience for older residents with wicker trolley-baskets. But that is not how it is. The shops combine to provide a network of local services that is highly valued – and jealously guarded - by everyone in the area.”

Featured in the exhibition are Stephen Maskill Butchers; 2 Tone Comics; William Holt Greengrocers; Element Jewellery; Muse Music; Jules Pottery & China; Pot Stop; Ribbon Circus; Waites Bakers; Fleur de Lys; Hat Therapy; Yorkshire Soap Company; Polkadot Lane; PI Consultants – Chimney Specialists & Multifuel Stoves; Harold Crabtree; Helen Granton; Valley Organics; Bonsalls Ironmongers; Daisy & Sam; Blazing Saddles; and Hebden Tea.

Gerard, who lives in Boulder Clough, Sowerby, said: “The dreadful floods that hit the town last year revealed the support from customers and the fortitude of the shopkeepers. Many shops devastated by two floods within a fortnight re-appeared as pop-up stores around the town. Valley Organics, for example, were selling fruit and vegetables from Hope Baptist Chapel for two or three months before re-opening in their refurbished shop on Market Street – the worst-affected area.

“It was this spirit that I hoped to capture in a series of twenty-one portrait photographs. But, I was also motivated to reveal the personalities behind the shop fronts, aware that the products on sale are nothing without the commitment and passion of the shop owners.

“The aim was to ask a selection of shopkeepers the same, simple question: ‘What do you love about your shop?’ and take a photograph of them in the context of their store, illuminated from the shop window and without offering any suggestion about how they should pose, except to look directly at the lens.

“The project was partly inspired by the work of Keith Arnatt who, in his portrait photographs titled ‘Gardeners’ and ‘Walking the Dog’ conveys a subject’s behaviour when photographed, which is often constrained by convention. Although a short conversation before raising the camera may have helped to put the portrait subjects at ease, their chosen expressions range from posed to dead-pan.

“Most of the shopkeepers have been in the town for many years and are well-known to locals – often on first name terms. What became apparent was how well they knew each other, recommending others to be included in the twenty-one images. Many of the comments also reveal their commitment to, and strong relationship with, their customers.

“What started as an interesting photographic project became an enjoyable personal experience that bonded me more strongly to my local town. The challenge was not finding suitable candidates for the project, but working out how to select only twenty-one images.”

The exhibition is being shown at the Hebden Bridge Visitor and Canal Centre, New Road.

The centre is open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm, Saturday, 10.15am to 5pm and Sunday, 10.30am to 5pm.

For more information, call 01422 843831.