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London College of Communication

Lewes High Street: Retail Retold

Exhibition highlights decline of today’s high streets and unsustainable modern shopping practices

Written by Jake May
Published date 06 September 2019

A new exhibition featuring never seen before pictures from a time when high streets were thriving and shopping was sustainable is shining a spotlight on the decline of our high streets and the unsustainable ways in which we shop today.

Curated by Brigitte Lardinois, Director of the Photography and the Archive Research Centre at London College of Communication, ‘Lewes High Street: Retail Retold’ documents the Lewes high street from 1860 to 1960.

The images reveal a bustling high street at a time where shoppers bought products in reusable glass bottles and brought their own jugs and baskets, and when people were more likely to repair broken belongings rather than simply replace them.

The exhibition – initiated and organised by the Photography and Archive Research Centre at London College of Communication, UAL – consists of 80 photos taken in the East Sussex town between 1860 and 1960, and will be displayed in shop windows as lightboxes on various locations along Lewes High Street from 5 to 29 September 2019.

The images come from the Edward Reeves Archive – the collection of historic images from the world’s oldest surviving photography studio. LCC's Brigitte Lardinois has been working with the gallery on a research project since 2013.

Brigitte said:

“‘Lewes High Street: Retail Retold’ focuses on the importance of the high street, which is central to the social and economic life of our community.

“The exhibition gives special emphasis to the more sustainable way in which previous generations traded and shopped, and highlights ever-changing lifestyles. London College of Communication has taken ‘sustainability ‘as one of its key research points and I feel that using this archive to promote reflection on our current way of life is extremely timely.

“We want the photographs to give the viewers pause for thought. For so many years it was normal to shop locally, to mend what was broken, and to use the high street for socialising. Losing these places is a serious threat to the life of small towns.”

“By photographing the original glass negatives we are able to digitally blow them up much bigger, revealing details in the picture that even the photographer could not have seen at the time.

“This exhibition, for the first time, shows these details – revealing scenes not normally deemed important enough to capture at the time, but fascinating for us now.”

Lewes High Street: Retail Retold will run from 5 to 29 September 2019 in various locations in Lewes Town Centre.

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