In January this year I approached local photographer Sharah Smith with an idea about creating a web based gallery of Levenshulme’s Traders. The idea stemmed from my curious nature and meeting people on local adventures in and around the new area I now call home.
The unique characters of the people behind the shop fronts, organisations and market stalls fascinated me. I wanted to find a way of capturing the essence of these individuals, their work place and sharing them to the wider public. I wanted to create an online window for the high street of Levenshulme for people who may not know what lies behind the shop facade on the long A6 stretch and the streets beyond.
As part of the project research and work, Sharah and I visited many high street and market traders, seeking their participation and getting to know the subjects.
Throughout these walkabouts I had the personal opportunity to hear a number of local business owners views on regeneration hopes and challenges in the urban village. People’s desires, ambitions, community pride, sometimes even conflicts and perceptions of the locality were hot topics. It was a real eye opener.
Choosing a Photographer
Sharah Smith is a full time artist and mother who lives up the road in Heaton Norris. She has lived In Levenshulme in recent times so had an understanding of the complexities of shooting on the high street. She grasped the nature and scale of the project because of her personal experience in the area and had an affinity with the location. As a photographer, she has an exquisite attention to detail and a unique ability to capture the mood and soul of the subject matter in a limited time frame. Working in busy, high energy environments is something Sharah was used to – partaking in a similar portrait collection of Stockport Indie Traders in 2014. She ended up documenting over 70 traders during the process in Levenshulme. Editing them into a refined collection was a particularly tough process.
A note from the artist Sharah Smith
“As a follow on to my ‘Stockport Independent Traders’ Photography Project, which I exhibited Sept 2014, I was approached by Love Levenshulme to create an archive of portraits of the independent traders on the Levenshulme High Street & Market. The project was aiming to capture the essence of the trader and their product. As I was getting more involved in this project it became clear how passionate and dedicated these traders are, whether they design or create their product themselves or source the finest local produce, I was overwhelmed with the amount of heart that goes into creating the network of Levenshulme’s independents. I found some absolute gems! As I was working, photographing the traders I tried not to ‘pose’ or set up the image too much. I wanted the real personalities and natural essence of the person and products to shine through. This would mean working a little different with each portrait to try to capture something genuine.”
Photo Exhibition on The High Street
In September 2015, Love Levenshulme created a month long High Street Pop-Up Hub on Stockport Road. It was opened for six days a week and its aim was to create a visible and unique temporary space that residents, business and visitors to the area could explore and express their desires for the future shape of Levenshulme’s high street. This happened through a series of workshops, events, general discussions and allowing people to commit suggestions to paper.
It was vital for the hub that there was a visual draw for people to want to enter the shop. Making sure there was something which connected the empty space to so many in the area was a key factor in creating an physical exhibition. A launch event helped to create a bit of pomp and ceremony to the occassion and open up the venue to the intended public.
The final selection of 18 fine art print portraits was a physical showcase of the people driving the local economy in a challenging, ever evolving retail environment.The exhibition served to capture a sense of resilience, determination and creativity by local independent traders.
The online exhibition is an extension of this and serves to remain a lasting legacy of the project.
There is an obvious display of pride in the area by such a diverse group of subjects. There is a simmering energy about the future of local trade for the Levenshulme business owners and workers. The subjects appear to embrace and relish the opportunity to step out of the shadow of their trading environment and come to the forefront of the picture. The spirit and passion for their livelihoods capture the prevailing mood that that Levenshulme is indeed open for business.
With thanks to Laing O’Rourke and Forever Manchester for their contribution to the project and to Levenshulme Market for their High Street Innovation Fund support. Final thanks to Sharah Smith for the hard work in delivering the creative element of the project and of course, to all the traders who made the experience so friendly and warm.
Words by Pauline Johnston. (Project Co-ordinator)