Copyright Laura Braun 2013 published by her imprint Paper Tigers Books
The recent book self-published under her imprint by Laura Braun, Metier, investigates the Small Business in London, which is a region where Braun resides. The book is a combination of environment portraits of the persons engaged in a small business, a study of the business interiors and all in conjunction with brief statements made by her subjects, usually in the context of how they arrived at this business.
Since the term Metier was not well known to me, (a term that I never heard mentioned amongst the other small business owners in Southern California where our shop was residing), I thought it expansive to know more about this word in order to ground me as a reader. Perhaps this is a far more common term in England, as in California those folks who run the small businesses are more commonly known as store owners, small businessman/women or for the hip stores, entrepreneur.
- A profession or trade, especially that to which one is well suited.
- A field of activity in which one has special ability or training; forte.
I suspect that the last part of the first definition creates more ambiguity in the reading of this book, as I find it extremely difficult to tell by looking a portrait or reading their statement that they are well suited to that professional trade. The later found definition seems to have a better connotation and connection with Braun’s sociological study.
This book immediately resonates with me as many photographers, whether full time or part time profession, commercial, portrait or fine art, usually fall into this broad category of commerce. And in fact she features three photographic oriented small businesses in her book.
As background, at one time my family owned and operated a storefront retail store selling a combination of picture framing services, do-it-yourself framing supplies as well a broad selection of fine arts materials. We were on the far end of main street and we quickly noticed the changes that began to occur with the local store businesses with the opening of a huge open mall near by. Similar to Braun’s environmental portraits of the store owner’s enclave, we also had the “back room” where all of the framing magic occurred and our framing team could relax a moment out of the spotlight of the customers gaze.
Her portraits are at once a look into the past and as well as potentially into the future for a small segment of society in North America and Western Europe. In other parts of the developing world, these small business portraits probably do not appear as strange as family owned enterprises are the norm. Nevertheless with the continuing expansion of McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks other chains, even the far reaches of the globe may soon be similarly impacted.
In studying her photographs it seems that the store interiors provide a biographic environment, from the neat, tidy and well arranged to those on the ragged edge of total chaos, much like her subjects. There are also open questions asked by this body of work, such as to whether there might be a universality to small businesses.
Unlike the current trend of neutral appearing subjects, as if indifferent, it appears that Braun does not attempt to force her subjects into a predetermined formalistic pose. She captures what her subject’s offer, that perhaps this is part and parcel to her subject’s persona. She and her subjects provide the reader a little more of a hint as to one alternative reading of the photograph.
Likewise I find while reading this book recalling the various small shops and businesses I have frequented while some have made a lasting impression and memory to this day.
I do find this book to be a very enjoyable read.
The book has a stiff cover dust cover over a book block that has open thread binding. Okay, Braun describes the book as being naked bound with dust jacket, which I have discussed in much more detail in another post found here. As a result of this style of binding, the book lays flat and viewing the interior spreads in combination with the smaller size of this publication is a pleasure. The flip side is that this is not a particularly strong type of binding thus the reader is encouraged to take a little more care in the book’s handling. My copy was immediately placed into a protective poly bag. In the captions for each small business, the subject as well as the physical location is identified. The Afterword was written by Dawn Lyon with the book design by Mel Duarte.