Exhibition: Sam Mellish, Roadside Britain
We are pleased to announce that we are hosting a photography exhibition within our London Portobello store. Roadside Britain by Sam Mellish shows the traditional and quintessential aspects of British trunk-roadside culture, with emphasis on location and environment. Depicting the people and places of a threatened livelihood, the images are warm, nostalgic, quirky and melancholic, giving immediate appeal to anyone who has ever driven any distance along the country’s A and B roads.
BS: How did roadside Britain come about?
SM: The project began when I was studying for my Masters at the University of Westminster. We had a long-term project brief, which was to be UK based and having done a lot of projects overseas doing something solely in the UK was quite welcoming. I was driving back to my parents’ house in Suffolk and I drove past the burger van I used to work at washing pots as a teenager. It had everything, the location, the people, and a following from the Route 66 culture. Three months worth of work turned into four years with a little help from the Arts Council.
BS: You mention that the project took four years to complete, were you doing it full time or working on in between other work?
SM: When I was studying I worked on it solidly for 3 months, after that I fitted it in when I could. It was really great to get the funding to work in East Anglia, which then meant I could work on the project in between my freelance career. If I had a week off from work, I would just pack my car and go, it was an organic project that just grew unconsciously. I knew I wanted to keep going and finish the project by collating everything in a book.
SM: It happened in three stages. Whilst I was studying I looked mainly at London to Land’s End, which is the A30. After that I returned to Suffolk and covered Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, and a little bit in Essex. After that I returned to London to take on the challenge of Wales, Scotland, a small part of Ireland and covered the A1 that Paul Graham took photographs of in the 1980s.
BS: Have you measured how many miles you have covered?
SM: I haven’t measured it but I did a rough calculation. It is kind of in the region of 6000 miles, there’s been a lot of tea and cake eaten, so I am surprised I’ve not put on a considerable amount of weight.
SM There are so many. Highlights include Smokey Jo’s restaurant in Cornwall which is a very nice place, and the staff are really friendly. Then in East Anglia there is The Blue Sky Cafe, which has a really nice eclectic mix of people from all walks of life. One day you might have a truck driver, and then the next you have a minor celebrity. There is a lot of banter and I really get off on that.
BS: How did you decide where to visit next?
SM: My main research source was communication, if a trucker told me to go to a certain place, I would jump in the car and go. What was really nice was in the winter of 09/10 it was really cold and bleak, there wasn’t a lot of transport on the roads, but I thrived on that. People were around with farmers and their sons etc. I really relied on communication from people and their stories.
SM: I had two cars from start to end, a Rover 106 which I filled up with sleeping bags, water etc. Then I had a Toyota, which was a bit bigger so I could fit more equipment in. It was just really exciting loading the car; the whole process was really enjoyable.
BS: What was the longest you were out on the road for?
SM: I think the longest was two and a half weeks, it was along the A40 out of London and to Bangor in Wales, then back down the A5. Wales was magical and it was a real boost for the project.
SM:The top three things are figure out whether you want to listen to radio or tapes, an iTrip is a really good investment. Take provisions with you for a long trip such as sleeping bags etc. Be prepared, don’t be scared to fill up your car with stuff – you never know when you might need it.
BS: Did you get lost a few times?
SM: It’s quite hard to get lost in the UK as I focussed on the main trunk roads. I had some funny experiences as it’s self-funded project. As I couldn’t throw money as it I would camp on a campsite, or on the side of a road I had some hairy moments of adventure camping. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger...
Sam's exhibition can be found on display at our Portobello branch at the below address: