During the winter of 2008/09 Woolworths collapsed. This much-loved British high street institution was a major casualty of the 2008 Financial Crisis. It went into administration one year short of its 100th anniversary and its network of more than 800 stores closed with over 25,000 employees losing their jobs. Importantly – literally overnight – the economic recession was tangible and visible to people at street level across the nation and was no longer just data on computer screens privy to those enclosed in glass-fronted offices.
At this time, I walked past a closed Woolworths store at Burnt Oak in London in the dead of night. I was greatly moved by this sight – one steeped in potent symbolism and something that I knew would gradually disappear in time. The shop front’s partly extinguished signage and the rays of an adjacent street lamp made it stand out in the breathless night. Now empty and redundant, it bore an air of solemn finality. The beleaguered shop front stood like a tombstone, its faltering signage an epitaph that needed no explanation. This one store’s closure was at once emblematic of a sweeping global recession, as well as the end of an era for a popular high street brand in the UK.
This experience inspired me to visit Woolworths stores in London and parts of the South East of England, photographing the shop fronts and creating a record ahead of their eventual disappearance. These images form the core of the book entitled Open & Closed. Then in 2015, during a series of night walks David Kendall interviewed me whilst we revisited some of the sites I had previously photographed, and any trace of the Woolworths stores had been replaced by a new retail outlet. This conversation has formed the basis to the accompanying dialogue contained in the book and touches upon the Woolworths story itself, issues to do with urban regeneration as well as methodologies of the work.
The publication Open & Closed is a limited edition publication. Details to be confirmed. A complete version of the book is available for viewing on request.
November 2018 is the 10th anniversary of the stores closure, and an opportunity to validate and publish this work for the first time.