John Comino-James has photographed the streets, shops and shopkeepers of the Oxfordshire town of Thame. His portraits and interviews are collected in new book In a Very English Town, published this month by Dewi Lewis Publishing.
High Street, Buttermarket, Cornmarket, Pump Lane, North Street, Park Street, have such a deceptive familiarity to the English ear that they might be found in any English town. They are names that suggest a sense of continuity and tradition – something very English. Yet the reality is often not quite what it appears.
John Comino-James has photographed the streets, shops and shopkeepers in the centre of Thame, an historic market town some 45 miles from London. Portraits, texts and candid photographs are contained in a sequence representing a meandering walk through the town, during which are encountered the last cattle market operating in the area, travelling showmen at one of the two annual fairs, and the weekly street market. The accompanying interviews reveal pride in the continuation of family businesses, as well as small enterprises both challenged by and benefiting from the increasing impact of the internet.
While the presence of supermarkets and services such as banks, travel agents and estate agents is acknowledged, in choosing subjects for portraits Comino-James was drawn to those shopkeepers whose aim might be summed up in the words of one of them: “To keep the character of Thame as a Market Town and not a Supermarket town”.
John Comino-James. In A Very English Town. Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2009. ISBN: 9781904587729