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New book and exhibition from The Modernist Society offers a rare snapshot of Manchester in the 1980s

Part of Manchester’s urban history is being celebrated with a new book featuring images of local independent shops in the 1980s, which already look like a bygone age.

The series of rarely seen black and white photographs, taken by self-taught photographer Brian Lomas in his native North Manchester, have been brought together for the carefully curated book, titled Small Shops.

Greengrocers, butchers, barbers, chip shops and florists, many adorned with old signage, are just some of the independent businesses featured. Not only have most of these businesses since disappeared, but many of the buildings that housed them have also now gone.

Amateur photographer Brian, who was at the time in his mid-twenties and working as a health service administrator, took the photographs on his Rolleiflex camera mostly in and around Moston, as well Blackley, Newton Heath and Harpurhey.

While some of the original prints were initially shown in 1983 at Uppermill Photography Gallery (now Saddleworth Museum and Gallery), and exhibited at Liverpool’s Open Eye gallery in 1986, these images have gone mostly unseen until now.

Brian, 65, has lived in North Manchester all of his life, and now resides in Failsworth. He comments: “Even then, many of these shops seemed out of their time, with their quirky and characteristic details - shopfronts with old signage, old fashioned style shop tills and traditional weighing scales.

“Many of these independent businesses were under threat at the time, particularly with large supermarkets coming into Manchester, but also with shopkeepers coming up to retirement age and not having anyone to pass the business on to. So, I was keen to document these local small shops before they were gone."

“I’ve been taking photographs for over 40 years and in that time, things have changed dramatically across the city. Many of these buildings are now gone completely, so I’m very glad that I captured that part of history while I could.”

Small Shops is published by The Modernist Society, whose co-founder Eddy Rhead comments: “Brian came into our Manchester HQ one day and asked if we would like to see a project he had been working on. I must admit that when he pulled out a box of prints rather than a laptop, I was a little sceptical. But as soon as we saw the photographs, we knew we wanted to work with him.

“These photographs capture a time and place that, despite being within many of our own lifetimes, now seems like a lost age."

“What really resonates for us is the sense of place. People are rooted to the places where they live. Brian and has lived in North Manchester his whole life, and that sense of place and connection to the community is truly embodied in these pictures. There is a bit of nostalgia there, and whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to people to decide.”

Small Shops will be available from 1 July from The Modernist. The first 100 orders will receive a free pack of four postcards featuring images from the book.

To coincide with the launch of the book, The Modernist will host an exhibition of 24 of the images at its gallery on Port Street in Manchester, from 1 July until 1 September.

Editor’s notes

Small Shops was designed by Jonathan Hitchen and printed in Wales by Gomer Press.

Founded as The Manchester Modernist Society in 2009 by Jack Hale, Eddy Rhead and Maureen Ward, The Modernist Society is a creative project dedicated to celebrating and engaging with twentieth century architecture, through publishing, events, exhibitions and creative collaborations.

Publishing arm 'The Modernist' was established in 2011, initially publishing as a quarterly printed magazine. The Modernist is now developing into a small press, publishing limited editions about 20th century architecture and design.

The Modernist Society enjoys the the support of its excellent Patrons: Jonathan Meades and Johnny Marr. The Modernist Society is a not for profit Community Interest Company.

Brian Lomas - self portrait 1980