Style Curious

13/09/2011

Curiosity shop photographer, Philip Woolway


Utter Clutter is the pertinent name of one of the curiosity shops captured for posterity by Gosport based photographer, Philip Woolway. A specially curated collection of Woolway’s curiously characterful images is now available for purchase, exclusively at ShopCurious. Here’s a little more about the inspiration behind his work:

Morrisey, The Manic Street Preachers and the Kaiser Chiefs are some of the performers photographed by Woolway, who initially specialized in live concert images. He took up photography in the early ‘90s, after a long career in IT, and is largely self-taught, having taken various courses at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath. His debut exhibiton documented the making of a video at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth to help raise funds for the restoration of the run down building. But, it was one day when a job in Southsea was rained off that it all began... He walked into Langfords antique shop and was simply stunned at the number of vintage treasures crammed into the shop. There were endless photo opportunities - he spent two hours browsing and snapping away (see below).


He immediately started looking for more junk shops on the internet and in directories, but found that many had since closed down. On a trip to the Isle of Wight, at least 30 sites had disappeared. However, it was here that he stumbled upon Chale Antiques, with its amazing skulls, taxidermy, pickled body parts, jar of cocaine from the war and box of teeth from a Victorian dentist.

Woolway uses a special ‘fish eye’ camera lens to capture every detail of a room stuffed full of curiosities and collectables. His aim is to “fill your face with chaos” – to offer you a “visual rummage” – a sort of Where’s Wally of a gigantic jumble of antiques and curios. The intense detail in each of the uncomposed shots is totally unique. His images are also tinged with a sense of nostalgia – a last glimpse of an eccentric, old fashioned type of establishment that is rapidly becoming extinct.

The project is propelled by Woolway’s curiosity. He wonders how objects have arrived in a place – and what story they have to tell. How did Hermann Goering’s Nazi uniform end up at Plymouth Antiques? Why is there a polar bear in Frome? And he’s curious to know more about the Aberdeen Angus skull in the Isle of Wight that’s said to have been someone’s pet…

Woolway explains that the owners of such shops tend to be older. They’re often real characters, who are more than happy to spend time chatting - recounting stories of unusual finds, like the occasion when a man walked into Chale Antiques with a metal box containing a mummified hand, a cross section slice of a human nipple in a jar and a petrified cat.

Philip loves visiting quirky places, like Portmeirion in North Wales – even Camden Market, “though it’s changing fast.” And he continues to travel around the country in search of Dickensian style ‘old curiosity shops’. He’d also like to go international with this project, and has already been approached by a shop in Austria, as well as a museum in Berlin.

“It’s such a shame that the traditional junk shop is being replaced by something more tidy and less interesting,” says Woolway. But it’s a fitting tribute that he’s captured these fine examples for posterity. Every photograph is like a time capsule of a bygone era – a multi-layered reflection of past experiences and lifestyles. We feel privileged to be able to share Philip's unique insight into a vanishing world at ShopCurious.