With just three weeks to go until the publication of Peter Mitchell's Early Sunday Morning, we asked the book's editor John Myers to tell us about his process working on the book.
John Myers and Peter Mitchell at the Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol in 2018
In 2019, Rudi Thoemmes (RRB Managing Director) mentioned this trove of unpublished work by Peter Mitchell, showed me an initial tranche and I asked if I might edit the book. I wanted to do it because I wish I had taken the photographs myself and I believe an editor brings another vision to a body of images and hopefully adds to it.
I selected the work at great speed. Maybe three hours to select from the 550 plus images and then drop them into sequence. Bang, Bang, Bang. I don’t know where the photographs were taken or the stories and the details that Peter (no doubt) attaches to each and every image. It helps not to know of course, not to have cherished favourites that you must include at all cost. You pick up the scent and see something in these photographs that is special and timeless. You do the best for Peter and just hope that he will agree with your selection and the pace of the sequence.
It is hardly surprising that I suggested Early Sunday Morning as the title for this selection of Peter Mitchel’s photographs. Edward Hopper’s painting of shuttered stores on a sidewalk, of the same name, presents the urban environment as a still life. It is the set: before the man in his shirt sleeves sits on the steps of his brownstone or the nighthawks congregate around a bar.
Empty streets are a stock in trade of photography, but even within the genre there are variants. Atget’s views of Paris are pregnant with the stillness of the city just after the street cleaners have departed and before the shops open (some have figures poised behind closed doors). Wim Wenders and Todd Hido and many others play upon the cinematic and tease us with the threat of what lurks beyond the frame.
Forget clustering buildings types together or constructing a cleverly concealed sub plot. The thread that runs through the selection are the pubs. Peppered across the town and usually within ‘staggering’ distance of each other. Watering holes, oasis of noise, gossip, laughter and relief. The quickest, cheapest and most reliable way out of northern towns and cities. The pubs marked out the territory aided and abetted by the seemingly ever present painted adverts and hoardings.
I spaced the pubs throughout the sequence rather like a long pub crawl and fitted the images in between careful to link the flat stretches together and then a rise or hill – just as if I were walking these streets and making my own route and way across the part of a city that was new and unknown to me.
Friday night and Saturday had their rituals: dancing at the Mecca – or summoning the courage to ask someone to dance – two swift pints before the match on Saturday at the City, Town or United, more beers at night and the fruitless search for ‘birds’ and then fish and chips on the walk home.
And then the weekend was almost over.
Lockdown Sunday began. Get Gran her News of the World, maybe a game of footer on the wreck and a few jars at lunch time.
“I think I’ll go for a walk down to the canal…past the gasometer…walking, walking, familiar streets and knowing every knot of people – the pigeon fanciers and the couple that run the BUS STOP CAFÉ.
Don’t think I’ll have a pie today - not on top of Sunday lunch.
Quiet streets, shuttered pubs, shops shut.
5 May 2020