Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Snow in St Leonards © JJ Waller

The perfect Christmas 2014 gift for St Leonards lovers…

Brighton-based photographer JJ Waller first visited St Leonards in 2008, and fell under the spell of the area. Since then he’s made more than 60 visits with his camera, documenting the streets and the people of the town. HOT’s Erica Smith met up with him to find out what attracts him to S’Lens, as he affectionately calls our town.

JJ Waller is a BIG fan of Hastings Online Times, he probably would rather I didn’t say this in public, but he often sends a PayPal donation of £10 or £20… it’s not ‘Payola’, he just likes HOT and is prepared to put his hand in his pocket to support a small online publication in a town he doesn’t live in. That was enough to convince me I’d like him before we met! We shared a train journey back from S’Lens to Brighton, and he told me about his photographs, and his plan for a crowd-funded photo book of St Leonards.

Havana Cafe Norman Road 2009 © JJ Waller

Photographers are a special breed – especially documentary photographers. There is a quiet magic about them. They are partly detatched observer, but driven by an understated love for humanity and an eye for quirky detail. It is no suprise to me that JJ Waller studied the Editorial Photography degree at the University of Brighton as a mature student. Last year he published a book of his Brighton photographs. Personally, after 16 years of living there, I’m not a big fan of Brighton but JJ’s photographs made me warm to the city again. He captures the lives of very ordinary people, and people in extraordinary fancy dress, not the groomed arrivistes and tasteful shopping offer. His photographs are the full-colour modern equivalent of those 1930s photographers involved with the Mass Observation movement.

St Leonards Festival 2008 © JJ Waller

I asked him what drew him to St Leonards, and his reply was “Mainly the train” – he was passing through in 2008, and the London Road / Kings Road area reminded him of old-school Stoke Newington. “It struck something in my DNA – I liked the chatty banter in the streets and the old, interesting shops. It had a flavour of an earlier time”. We have many fantastic photographers in Hastings and St Leonards – Bob Mazzer being my favourite street-scene photographer – but sometimes a visitor can pick up on the unique value of an area. JJ’s consistent visits to St Leonards have generated many volumes of photographs. He let me leaf through his collection of one-off albums.

St Leonards Door Bells © JJ Waller

“I had no agenda when I started photographing in 2008”, he said. “It was just a personal project. I liked the architecture, and the light from the sea. I wanted to concentrate on photographs in the square mile of St Leonards”. The themes that have emerged include economic, political and social migration, and regeneration. JJ Waller is not averse to regeneration, he welcomes the changes that have occurred. It is quite fascinating to see his repetitive documentation of the same shops in Kings Road, as the businesses change with each of his visits.

From Way Forward Community Planning Day, 2012 © JJ Waller

I was interested to see several photographs of Combe Haven – and of Combe Haven Defenders’ protests. “That’s all part of the St Leonards story”.

A Bite of Africa, Kings Road, 2009 © JJ Waller

What strikes me about JJ’s photographs is the empathy with the people and the place that I don’t see in Martin Parr’s documentation of working class life. “I was born in Putney and moved to Brighton as a kid. In London, we’d always catch the train to the end of the tube line and visit local street markets. I also collected Marvel comics, and was always visiting comic exchange shops”. Those early years of down-market flâneurism have helped to inform his choice of subject.

His Place, Kings Road, St Leonards, April 2010 © JJ Waller

He would love to produce a book of St Leonards photographs as a companion volume to JJ Waller’s Brighton, but he’s aware that it would be harder to find a publishing deal for a book about a small, rather deprived town. There’s not the same size of population and tourist market to guarantee sales. His solution is to Crowdfund the project through 2014, so a book can be produced in time for next Christmas. Because of JJ’s support of HOT over the years, you can be sure that we will be promoting the campaign when he launches it – so watch this space, and please be as generous to JJ as he has been to us!

In the meantime, JJ Waller’s Brighton is available to buy for £11.99 from his website. The perfect Christmas gift for a homesick ‘Over From Brighton’ friend!

And if you want to see more of JJ’s work, visit his website.

Bulverhythe Beach hut 2010 © JJ Waller

If you’re enjoying HOT and would like us to continue providing fair and balanced reporting on local matters please consider making a donation. Click here to open our PayPal donation link.Thank you for your continued support!

Posted 14:40 Wednesday, Dec 4, 2013 In: Photography

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