Thursday, October 24, 2019

Royal: mint

It's a bold business model, to be sure: publishing a new book every week, each limited to just 250 copies and each for the price of little more than a pint. But that's just what Craig Atkinson has set out to do with Cafe Royal Books, whose black-and-white publications showcase the very best in post-war British documentary photography. If you want to gain an insight into how the nation has changed over the last 70 years - socially, culturally, economically - then you could do much worse than browse their back catalogue.

It was only recently that I came across Cafe Royal, thanks to their publication of Robin Weaver's South Wales In The 1970s, a selection of images from his 2015 book A Different Country - hopefully the subject of a forthcoming feature for Wales Arts Review.

But the archive is so extensive and impressive that I couldn't help but also order something else at the same time - just a wonder that I limited myself to one: Trevor Ashby's England 1970-1990: Work & Play. The photos contained within are both real and surreal, shot by someone with a keen eye for the absurd amid the everyday.

Few of them have failed to raise at very least a smile - from the picture with a big top in the background and a billboard advert showing an elephant being dragged along against its will in the foreground, to the image of the child in a Spiderman mask standing behind a similarly attired hockey goalkeeper, to the shot of the snooty-looking straw-boatered toff pictured next to a lorry emblazoned with the words "SEPTIC TANK & CESSPIT CLEARANCE".

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