Laura Braun’s new collection of photographs of small businesses in London and the people who run them, Métier, has just been published by Paper Tigers Books. There is a book launch tonight at The Photographers’ Gallery in London – all are welcome!

The photographs in this collection and the stories that accompany them are each little discoveries of ways of life and making a living in London today. They document the trajectories that people have taken – marked by hope, obligation, and serendipity – and the meanings and routines of their everyday life and work. Many of the accounts are marked by emotion. For instance, love and labour merge on a daily basis in Celia Mitchell’s Ripping Yarns bookshop. A former actor, she collected books well before the prospect of having her own shop was on the horizon. The eclectic stock is a reflection of her own wide-ranging interests, creating a space that is both deeply personal and public. Relations with customers in these sorts of spaces are much more than cold market exchanges. Interaction generates warm ties between those who are formally buyers and sellers, connections that mark the physical and affective character of the space.

The slow accumulation of tools, materials, and artefacts has given rise to workspaces that are crammed with things in layers of time. These kinds of display are not designed in a deliberate way but emerge collage-like as a result of what has gone on in the space, through routines and practices over years, even decades. An appreciation of the way that space is made is hard to capture except through photography and this is one reason why such a collection is important. In the photograph of shoemaker Peter Schweiger in his workshop, we see an ordered space, the personalisation of his labour present in each set of lasts behind him. A sense of the workplace as inhabited is evident in the scattered objects on the shelves and surfaces of the rooms of the workshop of Thomazos Costi, a Cypriot tailor who has been making formal men’s attire for decades. This everyday messiness contrasts with the perfectly angled sleeves of the newly made jackets hanging from a rail on another wall.

This remarkable collection of photographs of small businesses in London is both a reminder of an era of the small shops and businesses that once characterised High Streets and back streets across the capital, and a document of the persistence of these ways of living and working. But it is more than this. In Métier, we see the sites and spaces in which the working lives of artisans and small-scale traders have taken shape, and how their working spaces have literally been shaped by the routines and practices that have gone on within them. And we learn something about working lives – the skill, attention, and relationships that give work its specialist character and form the basis of strong work identities.

Métier includes an Afterword by Dawn Lyon.