SIMON CARRUTHERS – 23 RED LIONS – DOCUMENTING THE DOWNFALL OF ENGLISH PUB CULTURE

I have long been a fan of Simon’s elegantly straight-talking compositional style and the subject matter he chooses to document and have reviewed his work before as part of the rather splendid Human Endeavour Collective. So I was excited to get wind of his new project and pleased to be given the nod to feature the images on the site – is this a world exclusive? Yes friends, I believe it might be.

England is currently seeing pubs close at an alarming rate and so Simon has turned his lens onto a cross section of these previous social establishments. These ghosts which once held a unique and prominent place in our culture, are unified by the fact they share the most common pub name in England ‘The Red Lion’. Each shot is framed in a similar manner enabling us to view the buildings like a portrait,  as though having a personality of their own, exaggerated through Simon’s keen eye for detail. The potential distraction from passers by, or urban clutter removed by careful composition. Perhaps this stark view adds to the sense of melancholy which accompanies this series.

As with all good typologies, it is both the similarities and individual differences which are allowed to stand out and so with these 23 separate establishments, this is what we notice.  Most prominent is the sad decline of these once hubs of social interaction, into Tesco Express convenience stores and a sad irony can be drawn between the ever growing accessibility to cheap booze and the decline of the pub. Perhaps no greater sin can be imparted on an ex pub than becoming a convenience store owned by the biggest retailer in the country, which aside from helping towards its own death, is contributing to the demise of another cornerstone of local life, the cornershop.

The images also seem to highlight the diversity in architecture that such establishments are housed in, yet there is always a familiar facade to the pub, allowing you to earmark it as such even if all noticeable hoardings were to be removed. Many of the structures are impressive in their design and whilst these architectural gems seem appropriate to the use as a pub, a Tesco or tool hire shop do not seem to hold the same justification.

But it is the individuality that also stands out, the personality of the pub itself and a reminder that these were more than just places you could have a drink, for many, they were a fundamental part of interaction with the wider community, a place to meet and make friends and an integral element of a communities framework. There are sad touches hidden on the faces of these buildings too – like the crudely painted ”BEER GARDEN OPEN’ which feels like a last desperate cry of a dying beast wanting to preserve its life.

Whether you consider the pub to be an essential part of the community or something you can do without, no doubt it is another bastion of our heritage that is undergoing a rapid and potentially alarming change, so considering the reasons behind it a noble exercise.  Perhaps the reason for the closures comes down to a combination of the usually cited reasons or perhaps it is another effect of social interaction being more available to us anytime, anywhere through social media and technology. Whatever the reason, Simon’s elegantly chosen series of images gives us a pause for thought and consideration at a rapidly vanishing features of our streets. The foresight to photograph a small selection means that a record of their existence will live on.

Full gallery of images below (click to open slideshow) and artists statement.

23 Red Lions – Simon Carruthers

The number of pubs in England is in steep decline. Between 2006 and 2012 an average of 23 pubs permanently closed their doors each and every week. The finger of blame is often pointed at the big supermarkets selling discounted booze, the stalling economy and the smoking ban introduced in England in mid 2007. Property developers and supermarkets have been accused of predatory purchasing especially where high street pubs occupy sizable plots or include car parking space. Tesco alone has recently acquired 130 pub sites, intended for Metro convenience stores. Each of these factors has no doubt had a significant impact on the number of pub closures but there is a lesser-known and potentially more consequential reason for the high numbers of failures.

Half of the pubs in England are operated by PubCos – large property companies who lease pubs out to tenant landlords. PubCos are accused of squeezing profits from landlords by monopolising and overpricing the alcohol they supply to their landlords and charging rents well above market value. Otherwise successful businesses are being forced to close because landlords are unable to draw a living wage whilst PubCos reap the profits.

The reasons may be numerous but the fact is singular: England’s public houses are closing down at an unprecedented rate – during the last decade the overall number has been reduced by 15%. This matters because it is a blow to a fundamental of English culture, but mostly it matters because all too often a pub is the focal point for a community.

23 Red Lions is an England-wide survey of Red Lion pubs that closed down between 2006 and 2012. The series is titled after the most common pub name in England.

www.simoncarruthers.org.uk

 

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