Laura Braun’s new col­lec­tion of pho­tographs of small busi­nesses in Lon­don and the peo­ple who run them, Métier, has just been pub­lished by Paper Tigers Books. There is a book launch tonight at The Pho­tog­ra­phers’ Gallery in Lon­don – all are welcome!

The pho­tographs in this col­lec­tion and the sto­ries that accom­pany them are each lit­tle dis­cov­er­ies of ways of life and mak­ing a liv­ing in Lon­don today. They doc­u­ment the tra­jec­to­ries that peo­ple have taken — marked by hope, oblig­a­tion, and serendip­ity – and the mean­ings and rou­tines of their every­day life and work. Many of the accounts are marked by emo­tion. For instance, love and labour merge on a daily basis in Celia Mitchell’s Rip­ping Yarns book­shop. A for­mer actor, she col­lected books well before the prospect of hav­ing her own shop was on the hori­zon. The eclec­tic stock is a reflec­tion of her own wide-ranging inter­ests, cre­at­ing a space that is both deeply per­sonal and pub­lic. Rela­tions with cus­tomers in these sorts of spaces are much more than cold mar­ket exchanges. Inter­ac­tion gen­er­ates warm ties between those who are for­mally buy­ers and sell­ers, con­nec­tions that mark the phys­i­cal and affec­tive char­ac­ter of the space.

The slow accu­mu­la­tion of tools, mate­ri­als, and arte­facts has given rise to work­spaces that are crammed with things in lay­ers of time. These kinds of dis­play are not designed in a delib­er­ate way but emerge collage-like as a result of what has gone on in the space, through rou­tines and prac­tices over years, even decades. An appre­ci­a­tion of the way that space is made is hard to cap­ture except through pho­tog­ra­phy and this is one rea­son why such a col­lec­tion is impor­tant. In the pho­to­graph of shoe­maker Peter Schweiger in his work­shop, we see an ordered space, the per­son­al­i­sa­tion of his labour present in each set of lasts behind him. A sense of the work­place as inhab­ited is evi­dent in the scat­tered objects on the shelves and sur­faces of the rooms of the work­shop of Thoma­zos Costi, a Cypriot tai­lor who has been mak­ing for­mal men’s attire for decades. This every­day messi­ness con­trasts with the per­fectly angled sleeves of the newly made jack­ets hang­ing from a rail on another wall.

This remark­able col­lec­tion of pho­tographs of small busi­nesses in Lon­don is both a reminder of an era of the small shops and busi­nesses that once char­ac­terised High Streets and back streets across the cap­i­tal, and a doc­u­ment of the per­sis­tence of these ways of liv­ing and work­ing. But it is more than this. In Métier, we see the sites and spaces in which the work­ing lives of arti­sans and small-scale traders have taken shape, and how their work­ing spaces have lit­er­ally been shaped by the rou­tines and prac­tices that have gone on within them. And we learn some­thing about work­ing lives — the skill, atten­tion, and rela­tion­ships that give work its spe­cial­ist char­ac­ter and form the basis of strong work identities.

Métier includes an After­word by Dawn Lyon.