Not Such a Soulless City- Ken & the heart of the high streets.
This is Ken, Ken Graham.
I have to admit I was a little nervous about going and chatting to Ken, I've never had an issue talking to strangers, in fact for many years I earnt a living from it. But there has been something about Ken that has intreagued me for years. The man who sits in the poster shop, the man with the better hat collection than me, the man with the intimidating presence. I had to go and find out what he was like.
I've spent the last 30 years passing Ken's shop on the Newport Pagnell high street, and today was the first time I'd ever entered. The shop aptly named "Kens" specialises in posters, vintage magazines, newspapers and all the weird and wonderful old printed items you could want.
When I started talking to Ken I could'nt help but feel that I was bothering him and that he certainly had better things to be doing than talking to me (which undoubtdly he did).
But by the end of the interview and portrait session that hard exterior of his seemed to soften, and there was a warmth behind his eyes that reminded me of my Grandfather, someone who had seen a lot, knew a great deal and was keeping all of the tales and secrets to himself.
Ken's has been up and running on the Newport high street since 1983, which is no mean feat these days, especially in Milton Keynes with the shopping centre and countless high streets and markets.
We spoke about when the MK shopping centre was built and as he said "the centre is dominated by large companies, but small operators like me are not affected as we stick to the high street".
I believe that shops like Ken's and other small businesses are the heart of our Milton Keynes high streets. He mentioned the local butchers across the street, and how he has managed to avoid the all to familiar local store closure like so many others due to the influx of big name shops like "Tesco" and the "Co-op".
Convenience has unfortunately taken over the loyalty of shoppers, and all too often we are seeing small stores closing, and more and more big name brands taking over.
Stepping into Kens shop was like entering another world, the walls are covered from top to bottom with posters and magazine clippings. But among all of the interesting paraphenalia, to me the most interesting thing was the man hidden beneath it all.
As i photographed Ken, surrounded by all of his papers and files I thought about all of the interesting people that call Milton Keynes their home. Ken, originally from Sunderland moved down to the London area decades ago, and settled in Milton Keynes in the 1970's.
People like Ken and Ken's shop are the heart of our great city, and like his shop itself, we may sometimes be too much crammed into a small space. But if you look closely, you can certainly find some hidden treasures, and today for me, that was Ken.
Thanks for reading
Steph- Not Such a Soulless City