It was 1967 and I was a young man on Hessle Road in Hull taking photographs. I wanted to be a photographer as great as Bert Hardy or Tony Ray-Jones. I was at ease as I moved amongst the crowds of Saturday shoppers. I wasn’t hiding what I was doing and revelling in the alchemy of being seen and unseen, taken for granted, and as uninteresting as a road sign.
Among fruit and veg stalls with their customers eager for a bargain, I snapped away, rewound and reloaded another cassette of Ilford HP4 – this was before digital – and continued to capture street life: girls playing hopscotch and boys football; babies wailing in prams; washing lines strung across the streets; ten foots stacked with dustbins; women with their hair in rollers; gents outfitters from another era selling Teddy Boy drapes, drainpipe trousers, string ties and beetle crushers. Every now and then someone shouted, Jim! All right mate? Still snapping? In pubs men drank and Sally Army women tried to sell ‘The War Cry’ as people laughed and argued. In dark betting shops fogged with cigarette smoke, I made long exposures by resting my camera on the ledge where betting slips are kept.
I arrived outside the window of my favourite shop ‘Aladdin’s Cave’. Display cabinets contained watches, clocks, cameras, jewellery and bric-a-brac alongside a Dansette record player. In one corner a pushbike stood next to a Lambretta motor scooter. In another corner, there were fishing rods and wicker fishing baskets. The shop was packed full of everything and anything that had been pawned until the hoped-for better times arrived.
Through the shop window, I watched the pawnbroker standing behind the glass fronted counter talking to two men as he inspected the contents of their large leather bag. The pawnbroker was a tubby man in his late forties. He had neat grey hair and wore a waistcoat. His shirtsleeves were kept off his wrists by elastic red and black striped sleeve garters.
I put the eyepiece of the camera to my eye and pressed the shutter release. I was about to press the shutter again when a hand grabbed my camera strap, wound it round my neck and dragged me into the shop. As the shop door slammed shut I was punched in the kidneys. In agony, I dropped to the floor, only to be kicked in the stomach. One of the men said, If I want my fucking photograph taking, I’ll fucking ask you, right?
I saw the pawnbroker’s feet as he moved towards me. He bent down and removed the film from the camera, placating the men. He’s harmless, just a local kid, always snapping, he explained. Learnt your lesson, Jim? Good, the pawnbroker said. Take your camera and fuck off. Right gentlemen, we have business to conclude.
Outside the shop I thought, Yeah, lesson learnt, I’ll need a longer lens next time.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.