Sunday, January 24

The last day of Borders bookshops. Part 1.


I was surprised to find out in December last year that Borders UK was going into administration. It all seemed quite sudden, with little of the speculation and slow death that accompanied Woolworth’s demise. No tentative offers and rumours of takeovers. One minute it was open – the next minute it was closing. Kaput. Closed. Didn’t even make it to Christmas.

Borders had always struck me as a place with great potential for taking interesting photos of people. The English don’t really have much of a life on the street or indulge in everyday ‘street theatre’ as in some other countries, such as Italy (or am I imagining this?). The English urban street is typically a zone that people traverse quite quickly in order to get to somewhere else – usually shops or their office. People rarely linger or let their guard down on the English street.

However, in Borders – the new libraries of the late 1990s – people made themselves at home, grabbed a few obscure magazines, a coffee, and a seat at the table. Maybe spread out some coursework. Maybe dozed off for a while.

Gradually, however, the home comforts began to disappear – tables became fewer and further between, and pianos were carted off. As the financial situation tightened, the meet-the-author evenings became rarer. But, let’s face it, Borders was still a different universe to W H Smith, which if you’re out in the sticks is probably Hobson’s choice. And Borders was still open reasonably late in the evening.

I had certainly seen some good photos in Borders, but had never attempted to take any. For a start, I wasn’t keen on getting banned from my local-ish branch – I had witnessed quite a few Emo kids get barred (for essentially taking the piss and abusing this novel communal space). And I wasn’t that keen on getting permission to photograph inside a branch either – a request that seemed unlikely to be granted, or if it was granted would probably come with all sorts of tedious caveats.

So with the closure of Borders imminent it seemed like a good opportunity to take a few pictures. I popped in about a week before the closure of my nearest branch and took the picture above – already the downstairs was just about empty. I asked a few of the members of staff when they thought would be the last day (still up in the air), and hoped I would be able to return for the final day.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The closure of borders has far reaching consequences beyond the causal photobook/mag reader being deprived of choice/space in which to indulge.

It was the single distribution point for many photography magazines (fashion/editorial not the crappy amateur photographic magazines with a stock photo of some blurry water on a beach). Magazines like Lula were already in trouble, and i can't see where else you would be able to get them outside London with borders gone.

When I was in need of inspiration I would sit with a stack of photo magazines in the corner and find some. I would also buy one or two in exchange for the privilege (i imagine it was the fact most people didn't that was the final nail). What the hell am I going to do now. The photobook selection wasn't great, but the magazine selection was on a completely different scale than WHSmiths! We are really screwed

Paul Russell said...

Thanks for the lengthy comment, Anonymous.

Yes, the Borders magazine section is a huge loss - they stocked mags there like Source and Hotshoe that I knew about, but didn't have access to elsewhere. And there were offbeat things like David Lee's grumpy Jackdaw that I'd never heard of before.

It's a shame for the publishers and the readers. And yes, I did buy a few as well!

Of course, I am going to mention this somewhere in parts 2-34.