On Buying English English Shoes

A year and a half ago I started to look for a new pair of shoes, before that I mainly wore desert boots or cheap shoes from various retailers.  The desert boots were good but lethal in winter and all the other shoes fell apart in 6 months.  It was that time of year, so I started looking around for some brogues.  This time I was thinking of spending a little more money to get something that wouldn’t fall apart and started looking around but still couldn’t really find anything.

I can’t remember quite how it happened but somewhere I read about benchmade English shoes from Northampton.  Church’s, Trickers, Cheaney, Crockett & Jones, Barkers –  I remember seeing shoe shops like this when I was younger and they seemed old fashioned.  It was probably all the black formal shoes.  But reading this article opened my eyes.  Northampton produces some of the finest shoes and reading about the process, skill and craft made me think it could well be worth it.

I’m not really an impulse buyer.  I like to read about things and mull them over first if I’ve got the chance and there was no rush so I started to reading about shoes, English in particular but not exclusively.  Over the next few months of looking I came up with a number of arguments to myself.

Reasons to buy benchmade shoes

  • Goodyear welted/Veldtshoen construction means they can be repaired.  I find buying nice shoes a struggle so when I find a pair I like, it’s annoying when they fall apart within 6 months.  I could get these repaired.  As a bonus, many makers offer a refurbishment service where they resole at the factory – that’s faith in your product.
  • High quality materials – again, this means they’re not going to fall apart in 6 months, also, they look much better than cheap shoes.
  • Comfort – I sound like a grandad here but comfort is important and these shoes are comfy.
  • Style – in terms of brogues, which is what I was looking for first, there’s a massive choice and they all look amazing.

It was just before christmas, 2013 that I went into one of the cheaney stores and walked out with a pair of Arthur III mahogany brogues.  I had looked at Church’s and Grenson’s but in the end I like Cheaney’s the best.

Cheaney Arthur III

Around that time I also was fortunate to score a pair of Pennine IIR Burgundy boots.  Besides brogues, I also desperately needed winter shoes as I spend my time sliding around in winter.  These things are indestructible and also look great and a year of use and they still look like new and they’re nowhere near being resoled.

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I’ve had both pairs of shoes for over over a year and I can’t recommend them highly enough.  Both still look great, are comfortable, and have not fallen apart within six months.

I’ll be doing a few posts in the next few weeks on looking after and polishing your shoes and also a brief overview of English shoemakers.

Style Icon: Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis is a musician primarily with The Dirty Three, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and Grinderman but he’s so much more than that.  He shows men everywhere that a long and flowing beard, when cultivated correctly, can be a thing of beauty especially when twinned with sharp tailoring and fine shoes.  Warren Ellis is not concerned with the whims of fashion, no, he’s too busy looking sharp, writing music and hanging out with Nick Cave.

Warren Nick

Spotty shirt

Warren Ellis Spotty shirt

Out with the kids, Sartorialist

Warren Ellis - sartorialist

Photography bookshops in London

London is a great place to buy photography books especially some of the more obscure publications which can be a bit tricky to get hold of.  I’m rather fond of browsing a good bookshop.  Here’s a list of shops to visit if you’re in town.

Claire de Rouen Books, 125 Charing Cross Road

An excellent and wide ranging selection of photography books.  It has a number of rare items, quite often has signed copies and also hosts launches/signings at the store.  It’s also well placed on the edge of Soho so it’s easy to get there from either Tottenham Court Road or Leicester Square.  Bar Italia in Soho is a good spot, although it can get busy, for a coffee once your done looking at books.

Koenig Books, 80 Charing Cross Road

Worth popping in here as well as it’s near Claire de Rouen.  It’s primarily an art bookshop but stocks photography books too.  They focus more on recent releases for photography books and have an interesting range of smaller publications.  They’ve often got some gems.  The remainder section, downstairs, has some good books from a few of the larger publishers.  They also have shops at the Whitechapel Gallery and the Serpentine Gallery.

Foyles, 107 Charing Cross Road

One of the best general bookshops in London and a bit of an institution.  The photography section now has lots of smaller publications and is much more interesting.  It’s also on Charing Cross so it’s worth a look.

Photographers Gallery, 16-18 Ramilles St

I quite often buy books here as it’s purely photography, they always have the latest releases and quite often they have signings and also stock signed books.  There’s a wide range of books.  The prices are at the retail prices rather than collector prices.  As an added bonus they have excellent exhibitions and also a cafe for refueling.

Donlon Books, 75 Broadway Market

A bit off the beaten track but fortunately for me, local, so I quite often buy books from here.  Donlon’s has a great selection of collectable and also recent releases.  He stocks a lot of photography but also there’s loads of counter culture stuff which I love.  It’s not uncommon to find a book on black metal sat next to the latest Mack release.  There’s a host of cafes and bars in the area so although not central London, it’s worth a visit.

Tate Modern, Bankside

A massive bookshop and recently they now have some of the more sort after publications.  It’s worth a look.  I don’t really go there that often as it’s a bit of a trek to get to it but f I see an exhibition then I will always look in the shop.

 

 

Konica Big Mini

The Konica Big Mini, a 35mm point and shoot, has a cult following in Japan but in the UK it is not as well known as something like the Yaschica t5, Ricoh GR1 or the Contax G2.  Admittedly, the t5 has its Terry Richardson association, the Ricoh has Daido Moriyama but the Konica Big Mini has its fans too – Araki, Hiromix, Robert Frank.  It’s not in the same class as the Ricoh or the Contax but also it doesn’t have the same price tag.

I recently purchased 2 big minis of ebay.  One of the reasons was because I got badly burnt on Ricoh Gr1 purchase.  1 roll of film and the thing conked out with the dreaded shutter box issue.  Luckily I found somewhere which would fix it, however at nearly 200 quid  it seemed like throwing good money away.  Instead I bought 2 Konica Big Mini’s for under fifty quid.  Bargain.  They’re not as good as the Ricoh but the lens is decent, especially for the price, and as a walk around camera, it’s great.

 

 

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2 x Konica Mini's - BM201

 

 

Bye bye camera

I’ve just read Goodbye, Camera by Craig Mod on the New Yorker website.  To summarise, it’s an article about how the author has grown tired of cameras.  That his phone is as good in most cases as a camera for taking photos and in some ways better.  The networked photographer has different needs to the traditional photographer.  He is not only concerned with image making, he’s also concerned with the metadata, the sharing and the online conversation that follows.  Craig Mod’s someone I’ve followed over the past few years as he often writes about books and technology.  Publishing’s another industry where technology has altered the consumers physical relationship with the product.

It feels to me like the networked photographer – not a term I’m fond of to be honest – is for a younger generation, a new type of photography.  A fusion of image and words and then feedback.  It works well as single images, posted like diary entries.  This is why something like instagram was such a hit.  It’s not working at just an image level, it’s a snapshot diary of whatever you want.  The one thing I really like about something like instagram is that a phone allows people to capture anything they want and not feel too self-conscious.  So you get the strangest of moments, the weirdest of obsessions and also great formal compositions.  It frees people up, but it’s not mutually exclusive.  Alec Soth is a photographer who’s embraced the online but this hasn’t meant he’s thrown his cameras out.  It’s something different.  I don’t think cameras will die in the foreseeable future, nor do I believe Craig Mod does either.  TVs are getting larger, resolutions higher, and people want to photograph a broad range of subjects that phones don’t lend themselves to like street, sports, young kids running around.  Phones are limited in  size and thus ergonomics, optics, frame size are all major hurdles.  Also, add wifi to a camera, tether to your phone and you’re networked (this would be a great feature on my Fuji X100).

I’m also not 100% convinced that data attached to photos is revolutionary.  For snapshots, some photojournalism, it’s very useful as you can catalogue photos with names of people, when it was taken and whatever else takes your fancy.  It’s useful for documenting.  But would a William Eggleston be improved by having the weather forecast data attached?  No, I can see with my own eyes whether it’s sunny or not.  Advertisers would love extensive metadata on each photo, I can see the potential there, but how much use is it for us?  I’m not convinced it’s a massive jump that hasn’t been around for a while already.  We’ve been sharing photos online for quite a while now, I don’t think the urgency to share at an instance is relevant to all types of photography,

The article’s worth a read but what I found most interesting was the comments.  At times, it’s pure insanity.  Technology clearly worries people a great deal.  Some are horrified by the idea that anyone could just pick up an iPhone and take a great picture.  Others think he’s some spokesperson for the selfie generation.  A consumer junky not willing to learn how to use a camera.    Of course, he can use a camera, he’s just saying that for the vast bulk of the time he’s more interested in capturing an image and posting it on the internet than he is with playing around with a camera.  It’s an interesting topic though.  By wielding a Leica do you feel like more of a photographer than someone with a cheap point and click?  Probably.  Are your photo’s any better?  They’ll look like they were taken with a Leica, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any better.  

It’s not bye bye cameras just yet for me but as soon as they make a phone with the ergonomics of a Ricoh GR1, and image quality of a 5d then I’ll happily consider it.  Until then, it’ll be a mixture of cameras and that includes a phone as well.