Photographer Ben Elwes captured a vanishing world on camera almost by accident, writes Patrick Prekopp
The photographic record of Aylsham Market
They lean on metal shed doors or peer over a low wall, or simply huddle together for a quiet mardle – flat caps, overalls, big boots and braces, whiskery faces – probably discussing the merits of that box of rusty tools.
All around them lie unwanted household items, bric-a-brac, scrap. They gaze stoically as someone rolls a cast iron cartwheel between the rows of stacked timber posts and window frames, old bikes and assorted junk.
It looks like a battle zone but this is the Keys Monday market at Aylsham which started in the early 1950s as a small livestock market selling mainly poultry. In the intervening years, Keys has developed into a major auction company, establishing fine art sales, including pictures, books and collectables.
The livestock and outdoor deadstock markets have long since been abandoned, but a
new book of photographs taken between 1990 and 2010 captures the rustic atmosphere of that bucolic time.
Called Monday Market, the book was compiled by Norfolk-born photographer Ben Elwes, who spent many hours wandering round the sales yard on market day to see what he could find to photograph as well as to make the odd bid if there was something of interest.
“Auctions often involve quite a lot of waiting around to bid and usually there are other people doing the same. It is therefore a great place to observe people and take photographs, as there is always movement and activity,” says Ben. “It is also an event that recurs throughout the year so it is always there to come back to if you had been away – and I was often away. It was this relationship between continuity and change that interested me, particularly as reflected through the people. And in doing so I inadvertently caught the market as it was changing.”
Monday Market was never conceived as a book – the pictures remained in a box until 2016. It was only after chatting with graphic designer Dan Wescott that the idea of putting a book together came about.
In the introduction, local resident and author Elspeth Barker writes: “The Monday Market maintains its pride and independence, not as an adjunct to lifestyle, but as a celebration of life itself.”
A significant theme that underlies Ben’s work is events that identify and denote change.
“In a world of flux important moments pass quickly and are soon superseded by others. As a photographer this is what is exciting and rewarding when photographs succeed.
“In the market, I would try to be discreet in order to get better photos and hoped to melt into the crowd. But at the outdoor sale, every time I raised my camera my cover would be blown when the porter Mr Burton called out loudly: ‘Look up! Here’s the VAT man.’ Everybody would turn my way.”
Although mainly black and white, the 150-plus pictures also mark a significant change in the photographer’s art.
“When I started, I worked on analogue film and finished working digitally.”
Ben Elwes, aged 52, was born in Burgh-next-Aylsham, and has a masters degree in fine art photography. He divides his time between Europe and México and his work has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery and The Photographers’ Gallery in London, and in Sweden, France and Mexico.
He is completing a further book this summer from a photographic road trip made at the end of the US election in November 2016, entitled: God Bless America.
“I inadvertently caught the market as it was changing”
Monday Market, by Ben Elwes, will be launched in the Keys Sale Day Office on Thursday, July 19 with an exhibition of work from the book on display from July 20, until September 20. A second launch is planned for Thursday, July 26 at The Photographers’ Gallery bookshop in London, a popular venue on the photo circuit.