by Dewi Lewis October 15, 2020

Looking Back #005 
An occasional series about our backlist titles. 


Looking at a copy of John Londei’s Shutting Up Shop the other day I couldn’t help but feel its resonance in the time of Covid. 

When I first met John, around 2006, in his Fulham studio he was coming to the end of an illustrious career as a commercial photographer. His focus had moved to his personal work and he excitedly told me about a project that he had first begun in the 1970s – to explore
the traditional small shops that even then were facing an uncertain future.

John had photographed more than 60 shops across the UK - from the Isle of Harris in Scotland down to the Isle of Wight. Each shop was unique in its own way, and what they sold was incredibly diverse: from flowers to condoms, from tea to tobacco. However, for John, the people who worked behind the counter were even more important than the shops and their often fascinating interiors. And so his project was essentially an environmental portrait project of the shopkeepers and their staff.
John also understood the importance of their stories, which he told vividly through anecdote and through the interviews that he had carried out with them. For him, these were people who were proud of what they did and of their role within their communities.

Before I met him, John had begun the enormous task of updating what had become of the shopkeepers and shops he’d photographed some thirty years before. Many of the shops had closed not long after the pictures were taken, whilst others struggled on until the death or retirement of their owners; almost every single one had changed beyond recognition.

When the book launched in 2007 we staged a small exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in a space adjoining the bookshop. It was a great success, attracting a lot of press attention and we were fortunate enough to do a reprint. Publication also led to John being invited to a number of photography festivals and exhibiting his work in several European venues. It was truly rewarding to see the impact that the book made for him.  

John sadly died in 2012 after a short illness but there is no doubt that the book was a great energiser for him over those years. I remember his excitement and enthusiasm when we were on press in Italy, together with his wife Ingrid, and in particular one hot, sultry night when after a long day’s printing we spent a very convivial evening eating ice cream and drinking brandy in a newly opened and extremely popular outdoor ice cream parlour in Verona.

Dewi Lewis
Dewi Lewis


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