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Moments in time
It was, in some ways, an insignificant event; the closure of the café in Brighton’s Open Market as a massive regeneration project got under way. As ever, punters tucked into fry-ups, bantered with staff and stood about gossiping. It was a day much like any other – and that was exactly the appeal for photographer JJ Waller, who specialises in documenting the seemingly mundane events that end up as history.
He was there when the neighbouring Co-op department store shut up shop for the final time and when the Albion moved from the Withdean ground to the new Amex Stadium.
In the next few weeks, he plans to shoot at supermarkets as they move to disguise cigarette displays before the new Department of Health ruling comes in on April 6.
A simple idea but one that will soon take on a new significance, just as photographs of people smoking in pubs has.
It’s social history but Waller hopes his photographs also pose questions and stimulate debate, especially around the subjects of urban decay and regeneration.
His work is a perfect fit with that of community publishers Queenspark Books, which is marking 40 years of documenting ordinary life in Brighton and Hove.
Best known for its books on lost Brighton cinemas and backstreets, 18 months ago Queenspark launched an online Photographic Collection, intended as a visual “people’s history”
of the city. Waller is the current guest curator.
More than 900 donated photographs can be seen on the site, collected at a series of public events and taken mainly by amateur photographers.
Many have never been displayed outside private photograph albums. Under the title “women”, there are pictures of hurricane damage in Goldstone Crescent, Hove; a grainy, black and white image of a Pascal Biscuits works outing to the Palace Pier; two women with bouffant 1980s hair sitting in the Belvedere Pub.
“Demolition” contains images ranging from the dismantling of churches (The Union in Queens Square; St Saviours on Ditchling Road) to the removal of arches across Lewes Road during the 1970s.
There are other pictures of forgotten shops, disappeared newspaper kiosks and long-gone people.
“We think these pictures reveal the city’s DNA, something deep in its history, which you wouldn’t get in the tourist brochures,” says Waller.The project brings to mind the infamous baskets of unwanted personal photographs on sale at Snooper’s Paradise in Kensington Gardens.
Queenspark’s development director John Riches explains those baskets actually inspired part of their Arts Council funding application for the project.
“It always seemed a shame to me that more people couldn’t see those photographs,”
he says. It’s one of the reasons they chose to put the images online, rather than in a gallery or museum. “We wanted them to be easily accessible to everyone.”
There are no rules about submissions to the site; they have recently received a collection of images taken by the late Leslie Whitcomb, a prominent member of Brighton Camera Club and keen documenter of a “pre-cappuccino” Brighton, but Riches says they are just as interested in “a wedding photograph from 1973” or pictures of people at gigs.
“We don’t want to be too prescriptive as that could exclude interesting photographs. What we generally say to people is, if you think your photos are of interest, send them in!
“They don’t have to be technically brilliant – it might be that they capture a certain spirit or reveal something about the fashions and habits of the period.”
Waller’s images of the last day of the Open Market Café in January are unusual in having been specifically taken for the website.
“I had expected that several photographers would have turned up but to my knowledge, I was the only one,” he says.
“I therefore hope I’ve done justice to the opportunity by capturing something of the unique atmosphere of the people and the place, as well as recording for the inquisitive eyes of future generations a small but significant event in the city’s history.”
* Visit the Brighton and Hove Photographic Collection at www.queensparkbooks.org.uk.
* For more information on JJ Waller, visit www.jjwaller.com.