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Tif Hunter’s Maltby St Portraits

February 12, 2012
by the gentle author

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

11 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    February 12, 2012

    just spent a happy ten minutes spelunking in fern varrow’s blog. surely i will have katherine’s waist after such a jaunt.

  2. February 12, 2012

    What a beautiful set of portraits which seem to reflect the pride that the subjects have in their trades.

  3. February 12, 2012

    Beautiful photographs, and the feeling that you are ‘meeting’ each subject.

  4. February 12, 2012

    Great photos, people full of life and pride, really enjoyed it.

  5. Ree permalink
    February 12, 2012

    Amazing character studies…

  6. February 12, 2012

    I absolutely love these portraits, they have a
    Gorgeous old world feel about them!! Love it!

  7. andrea permalink
    February 12, 2012

    Wonderful photographs. There is a beautiful solarized effect (if that’s the right term) in the background of Katherine’s portrait and in areas of Jack’s sweater.

  8. Mark permalink
    February 12, 2012

    Magnificent and inspiring… a great way to start the day here in California.

  9. Patricia permalink
    February 12, 2012

    Such beautiful images!

  10. joan permalink
    February 13, 2012

    When I opened this post my daughter said ‘Who is that ?’ about the first photo. When I said that it was Justin Piers Gellatly my partner immediately said ‘That man is a God’. We have to thank Justin once more this weekend for his recipe in ‘Beyond Nose To Tail’ for apple and blackbery cobbler. I have made it so often this winter that I can almost make it blindfold, and it looks so impressive that family and friends believe me to be a better cook than I am.

    Many thanks – I feel that a trip to get a custard doughnut is long overdue.

    Best wishes,


  11. Cherub permalink
    February 21, 2012

    It’s so heartening to see photos of people who are obviously passionate about what they do for a living.

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