I have explored the past and present of British footwear manufacture, based in Northampton, by not only looking at my family’s past occupation within the industry, but also by visiting and photographing contemporary factories such as Edward Green, John Lobb and Springline. Throughout my work and research, I have used Northampton as an example to reflect the larger scope of British industry.
What had started as an investigation into my family’s past has progressed into a thorough examination, and education, of not only the Northamptonshire shoe trade but also a wider commentary on British industry and identity itself. After learning about Grandfather’s employment within the British footwear industry of the 1960s and 70s, I discovered the decimation of shoe factories and tanneries across the midlands and the north of England, and sought to demonstrate the indelible ties between industry and community identity in the United Kingdom. My work is therefore a reflection not only of my personal heritage stemming from the shoe trade but also a commentary on the social discourse surrounding the working man in Britain.
My photographs communicate not only the industrial side of the shoe trade, but moreover the people behind it. Many of the photographs that I have taken are portraits of men at work. By using portraits I wish to relate the work to the individual, not just the broader image of industry. I have attempted to use both images and objects to create a narrative not only about Britain’s manufacture but also about the working class man.
By including three very different areas of the industry; ready to wear footwear, bespoke footwear and modernised craft, I wish to demonstrate the changing face of British industry. As the photographs demonstrate, there is still an undeniable level of craftsmanship and human interaction within the footwear manufacturing business, even in a modern manufacturing company such as Springline. I believe that this cohesion between tradition and modernisation is what will keep British industry going, into the future.