Nik Hartley's latest project documenting the goings on at a local barber shop, is more than just a snapshot of his hometown in Nelson, North-East Lancashire. Shot over three days at Stylz barber shop, Every Street takes in the bigger picture, of a community with a high British-Asian population and where, as Dean Mayo Davies says in his intro, "the BNP and UKIP are popular amongst a sector of the white community." It's a positive outlook on a town that, when Nik was growing up in it, was unofficially segregated.
Describe Nelson in 5 words…
Lancastrian former cotton mill town.
What's the best thing about Nelson?
The best thing about Nelson, in my opinion, would be the people, the food, the beer and the surrounding countryside (Nelson is in the Borough of Pendle, in the North-East corner of the North-West of England and is situated on the edge of both the Pennines and (just across the border) the Yorkshire Dales).
And the worst?
Unemployment is quite high and with that comes a multitude of problems, both social and economic.
Why did you decide to focus your book around a barber shop?
I have been looking for an opportunity to take photographs in Nelson, and in particular around the Every Street area, for quite some time. I've known Harris, who owns Stylz, for a few years and one day it just clicked as an idea. In the beginning my idea was just based around the people and the town, rather than the haircuts. However, once I started to make a plan and to discuss it with Harris the idea evolved.
Why this particular one?
Like I said, I've known Harris for a few years, so his shop was the obvious choice. Combined with the fact that Stylz has an excellent reputation, with people travelling from as far away as Bradford and Preston to get their haircuts and shaves.
Dean mentions the BNP and UKIP, can you tell us a bit more about the tensions within the community?
Nelson, rather than being a multi-ethnic environment like London and other big UK cities, Nelson's community was somewhat polarised, in that the population was predominantly either White British or British Asian, with very few people from alternate ethnic backgrounds. The two communities were by no means officially segregated, but social, cultural and religious differences made proper integration hard to achieve.
As a white lad growing up in the area I went to Catholic state schools. There were two British Asian kids in my class at primary school and only three in my whole year at secondary school. I was a fairly shocking nerd and went to the Scouts, sang in a choir and also did jujitsu twice a week. There were no British Asian kids in any of these after school clubs. When I looked old enough I started going to the pub with my friends after college and at weekends, again very few British Asian lads or girls would be in the pub.
The vast majority of the British Asian community are Muslim, attending mosque and observing the teachings of the Quran. This, combined with cultural differences, explains why the pubs were just full of white people and why the Catholic schools contained very few British Asian kids. Kids from the two communities can grow up knowing very little about each other, and ignorance breeds contempt. Unemployment in the area is high and these economic tensions seem to add fuel to the fire of interracial intolerance. The resulting fractured and disenfranchised community creates the ideal breeding ground for right wing groups to find support.
This is not to say that there aren't lots of people from within the two communities living harmoniously. It's an unfortunate by-product of the media that our attention is drawn to bad news more than it is to good. In shooting the book I wanted to do something positive and up-beat. Racism, like all bigotry, works best as a faceless ideology. I wanted to a put a face (and frequently a smiling one), to this part of town and it's inhabitants.
What's your favourite image from the book and what's the story behind it?
That's quite a difficult question, in that it's quite hard for me to choose. I think if I had to pick just one picture that best represents my intentions when embarking on the project it would be the portrait of Ali. Ali is young, stylish and confident. Cut-off mid-flow he's part-way through telling me about going to school and playing cricket. I wanted the book to represent a moment in time, and without wishing to appear overly literal, I think this shot best illustrates that.
What's the best night out you've ever had in Nelson?
It's a long time since I've had a proper night out in Nelson, as I haven't lived there for a long time. I did go back up North for my 30th birthday and went for a meal with my Northern mates to the Madhubon Indian Restaurant. It was pretty funny, my lad mates from up there are all quite alpha and seemed to be competing for who could order the most impressive dish. Jodie Lonsdale won the prize when his main course got wheeled out on a silver trolley amongst in plumes of sizzling smoke.
Would you ever move back there?
I wouldn't ever rule it out as I do love it up there, and obviously my family and a lot of my oldest friends are up there. It is quite a long way from London though, so slightly impractical.
If you could do a similar project in a different town, which would you choose and why?
Good question. Obviously Nelson, and Lancashire in general, holds a special significance for me, but I'm more interested in the people than the place, and so would go wherever the people were. I have a couple of portrait projects in the offing at the moment, one in London and one near Birmingham, but in both cases I researched the people first and their location was of secondary concern.
Every Street will be available at Claire de Rouen Books from 23rd March.