Here now come The Guardians: keepers of our urban landscape’s heart and soul by way of the unique small retail business, the bespoke shop at the literal center of the world’s towns and cities, their stories compiled in this new book by award-winning photographer Vladimir Antaki.
Originally from Riyadh, Antaki was a seasoned traveler who specialized in the intimate portrait that tells a story well before The Guardians came along. But the project—this oversized, full-color book and several accompanying photographic exhibits around the world—allowed him to delve deep, to return to, to capture, one of the great conceptual obsessions of his youth:
“. . . my fascination with shopkeepers runs deeper. As a child growing up in Paris and vacationing in Beirut, I would often befriend the local shopkeepers. I remember helping my father's pharmacist friend in Badaro, going to the back to retrieve medicines. Totally illegal nowadays, but it allowed me to disappear into the world of the shopkeeper. I believe that there is incredible beauty in the bespoke shop; a beauty and uniqueness in time and place that is disappearing as it struggles to swim against the tide of homogenizing modernity.”
Forty-five guardians of a slower, more personal, time are profiled here. They hark from Beirut and Miami, from Venice Beach and Istanbul, from Paris, Montreal, Philly, and London and others. Put together, their stories create a visual history, a map of a way of life that is slowly disappearing, and that Antaki feels it is his “duty of memory” to preserve:
“I am of the opinion that part of my duty as an artist is to capture these urban temples and to preserve their memory. They are monuments to knowledge passed down through generations and are portals to another time. Many of them will not last much longer and several of the guardians in this book have passed away or had to close their shops. This books is for them and for all those who remember and wish to remember.”
It is perhaps this anthropological point of view that most informs the style and composition of The Guardians, and of each identifying record composed of large-scale photos and first-person essays. Each shopkeeper seems to look at you, as if to greet you, their figures framed by the material kaleidoscope of their vibrantly overflowing spaces, their faces open to the happy possibility of a new customer with whom to share the quirky humanity each of their ware represents, to share their own passion for the objects that obsess them.
And while obsession with the material things of our life and work is as personal as it gets, there is a definite, outbound ethos present among the shopkeepers profiled here in representation of so any others.
See if you can recognize the inspiring common intention that repeats in the voices of these preservers of individuality and the unexpected, of personality capable of bewitching the most jaded lover of online shopping with the promise of a visit to the little shop around the corner:
Marie Gagné, Collector and Antique Shop Owner, Montreal:
“This shop has only one goal: to make people happy. We do not take ourselves seriously. Time stops here, and we find ourselves in another era.”
Phillip Schünemann Aka Onkel Philipp, Used Toy Store Owner, Berlin:
“I carefully clean and fix the toys before offering them for sale in my store. I like to think of myself as a savior of old toys, and my shop is a rescue centre for teddy bears and dolls.”
Franco Savazzi, Tailor, Toronto:
“My place is like a museum, filled with objects and memories collected through the years: paintings and sculptures from and inspired by the native people. Unfortunately, I know that I’m going to have to close shop one day.”