I really like Salisbury, but my impression of the city after living here for nearly two years now is that it is a town on the decline. Salisbury is an old town with a lot of history, naturally the beautiful gothic cathedral is the major draw to the place. During the summer, tourists have flooded here from all over the world. It’s a busy place during this period, but come the winter things become quieter.
As I have walked around the town doing my street photographs I can’t help but become aware of the shops closing all over the town. Monsoon went some time ago, Strada closed recently as did La Molina (which I blogged about earlier). Shops like Nando’s and H&M have opened up in town recently, but these shops can be found in most towns. My suspicion is that people will bypass Salisbury, unless they live locally, as there is nothing beyond the cathedral to draw them in. So, one morning a few weeks ago, I walked around the place and photographed all the empty shops I could find. I was going to say that happily in the last week or two several shops have opened up in those places. However, they are just existing shops in the town relocating to another area – so now new businesses seems to have actually started, yet
Salisbury does have some really good features about it, it has a small but thriving art community, some nice local shops, and some good intimate music festivals during the summer. There are things going on here, but if you are not careful it is easy to miss them.
My interest in Salisbury is not to document my perception of it’s apparent decline, but to capture the life as it is lived here at this time. It’s just seems to be at the present moment that the town is not going through one of it’s better periods.
One thing that has really struck me again as I walked around Salisbury is just how many shops are closed or in the process of closing. A few weeks ago I went for a walk around town taking photographs of the closed shops. I must admit, I did feel quite self-conscious taking shots of empty shop windows in the middle of the day! But, at the time I felt that it was important to document and record the sheer number of shops falling into disuse in the town.
The shot below is of La Mollina, which closed yesterday. It’s really sad to see a local business go under. However, Fish Row is fast becoming the ‘to let’ capital of Salisbury. Part of me thinks in terms of businesses it’s more like death row. It’s a shame as the street is certainly one of the nicest areas of the centre. I noticed that on the upstairs window of the Forever England shop there is a ‘to let’ sign. Either the shop is moving or going, who knows?
I wrote a post a few weeks ago titled clone town. If you read what the owner of La Mollina wrote on the photo below, it’s proof of the point I made then about identikit ruling the roost. I haven’t lived in the area long enough to know the history of the town in terms of shops, but I can’t help feeling that whoever is making decisions about developing the centre is getting it badly wrong.
I think what I might do is get out early for a few mornings and photograph the closed shops. The state that some are left in; the unopened mail piling up near the letter boxes; the discarded items inside, like chairs, heaters, cooking equipment etc. tell us a story about loss and failure. The shops are a sad testimony to the business phrase ‘adapt or die’…
Project ideas are a bit like buses, you seem to be going nowhere then suddenly two ideas come from nowhere.
Firstly, my last post (‘Clone town’) seems to have galvanised my thinking about Salisbury and the work that I am doing locally. I am in the process of preparing for a photography exhibition in August, where I will be displaying my Salisbury night work (the web page will be updated to reflect the exhibition as soon as I am satisfied what images will make the final cut). As I was working through the shots tonight, it struck me about the contrast between night and day in the town. So, the Salisbury project takes into account the themes mentioned in the last post, whilst being shot at these two different time periods. The working title for the project is ‘Salisbury: Night and day’, which is pretty straightforward really.
The second project is going to be about Swanage. I visited the place recently and found it to be a really interesting and quite quirky place. My aim is to shoot the town in Summer and Winter, so that I can play on the contrast between the two seasons. It’ll be a more condensed project than the Salisbury one as it’s a three-hour round trip from home, so I need to be more focused when I shoot there. However, I do quite fancy trying my own take on the classic ‘British at the Seaside’ theme that has been covered by Tony Ray Jones, Martin Parr, etc. Whether I end up with something different to say from them (particularly Parr) is another thing! I will put some photos up on the site as soon as I edit a selection and find a better way of presenting them than the current format.
I spend a lot of time in Salisbury, it’s a place I really like. It’s also convenient as I live very nearby. However, as I walk around the town I get the increasing sense that it is a place that is almost decaying. The major draw of the place is naturally the cathedral, and the building is a pretty spectacular draw at that.
But, I am also noticing that a lot of the shops are empty (‘to let’ / boarded up with those anodyne pretty photos to make things appear not that bad to people) or closing down (such as Monsoon recently, and several others in the town at the moment. The shops that seem to be starting up are either more food places (such as the recent opening of Nando’s) or chain shops (such as H&M). The local paper talks about how Salisbury is at risk of becoming a ‘clone town’, same shops different buildings – you could be anywhere. From what I know of the town, it has a history of being artistic with local shops. Shops that seem to be disappearing from what I can see.
The market square was recently refurbished (the shot above) and the area has become a popular spot for adolescents on their skateboards, now that the car park there has gone. The arrival of the skaters from my point of view, makes things a lot more visually interesting. However, most of the shops surrounding the square are food shops.
To me, Salisbury seems to be a town that it struggling to reinvent itself. Maybe this issue is not dissimilar to other cities in the UK.
I grew up in a fishing village in Cornwall (Porthleven). In the 80s and 90s it was also struggling to reinvent itself, as the fishing and boatbuilding industries were dying off whilst tourism was growing. Then, at the turn of the century the place started to get a reputation for its food. A food festival was started up, Antony Worrall Thompson was invited down to open it (and has done so now on numerous occasions), then things grew seemingly from there. Now you go to the village and there are numerous bijou art shops, good quality restaurants, and a positive vibe about the place (well, for the holiday makers at least – poor job prospects and low pay still remains an issue for the locals).
Perhaps Salisbury needs to follow a similar model and work out what it needs to do to encourage more business into the town. After all, the shops that are closing probably aren’t those that cater to the tourist market.