Tif Hunter’s Maltby St Portraits
Justin – Head Baker at St John
This is Justin Piers Gellatly, emerging from the depths of the railway arch in Maltby St, Bermondsey, where he does the baking for which St John has become deservedly renowned. His weary raffish expression is familiar to me, simultaneously frazzled by working long hours, yet equally buoyed with pride to send his masterly creations off into the world.
Every one of these charismatic portraits of working people by Tif Hunter evokes a different dramatic circumstance and – even when we are not party to the stories – there is a vivid sense that each subject exists in a moment stolen from the round of productive labour which characterises Maltby St – a phenomenon in recent years, where some of the best produce and provisions in London are to be discovered. As a consequence, it has become a regular excursion for me on a Saturday morning to walk down from Spitalfields across Tower Bridge, and it delights me to be able to go from arch to arch buying beer from the brewer, coffee from the roaster, meat from the farmer and – of course – doughnuts from the baker. Over this time, a few places have opened where you can eat lunch yet Maltby St has never become too busy, by operating only upon Saturday mornings it has kept its local identity.
A community has grown in Maltby St, occasioned by the common enthusiasm amongst those who work here and all the regular customers who turn up weekly to the same suppliers. As one who lives nearby and has been a visitor here since its inception, Tif Hunter created this series of dignified portraits to record the band of independent self-respecting folk who choose to work here in complicity, pursuing their own way of doing things.
Tif Hunter explained to me that he took these photographs with a 5×4 camera, which – to you and me – is one of those cumbersome nineteenth-century-style gadgets upon three legs with black bellows separating a lens and a plate. Tif invited his subjects to step out momentarily from their work into the street, then he disappeared under a black cloth and after an exposure of one second, each of these portraits was photographed in a single take. “They were all lit by God,” he told me in a sudden flight of lyricism. Yet the process is not as arcane as it sounds, because Tif uses Polaroid. This film produces both a positive image and negative, and it is this negative from which Tif to makes his print. “The quality of focus is unsurpassed,” he revealed with a smile of visible pleasure.
“I wanted to photograph through the seasons,” Tif explained to me, “to get people in t-shirts and in woolly hats, and everything in between.” There is an intensity to each of these portraits which compels the attention – borne of a coalescence of these spirited individuals and an imaginative embrace of the medium by the photographer. Starting in the spring of 2011, the series – which currently stands at fifty-five – remains a work in progress. “It is the beautiful accident, that’s what I am drawn to,” Tif confessed to me as we examined the effect of the random elements produced by the process which frame each image, generating a fascinating dynamic with the finesse of his portraits, “It’s the magic which brought me into photography in the first place.”
Katie – St John Bakery
Katherine – Fern Verrow
Elliott – The Ham & Cheese Company
Stasia – Topolski
Dominic – Borough Cheese Company
Jane – Fern Verrow
David – 40 Maltby St
Anita – Monmouth Coffee Company
Evin – Kernel Brewery
Lillian – Neal’s Yard Dairy
Guillaume – Aubert & Mascoli
John – Tayshaw Ltd
John – Mons Fromager
Jack – Coleman Coffee Roasters
Tony – Tayshaw Ltd
Joseph – The Ham & Cheese Company
JK – Monmouth Coffee Company
Anna – Monmouth Coffee Company
Raef – 40 Maltby St