Shopfront lettering, Bilbao

Meet the Queen of Shopfronts

Mary Portas may declare herself to be the Queen of Shops,
but the undisputed Queen of Shopfronts is Vici MacDonald, founder of the
Shopfront Elegy blog and publisher of Shopfront
Elegy: Sampler
, the first of a potential 16 shopfront books. Leftover London asked Vici how the fascination with fascias

“I took my first photos in the early 1980s, on film of
course, when I was at art school. I have always liked shops but taking photos
then was hard work, especially before digital cameras and things like Google Street View existed. I used to look
at the Yellow Pages and maps and work out where there was likely to be a promising
source of shopfronts and industrial architecture. The blank areas on maps, or
places labelled ‘works’, always had potential. The run-down edge of town is my stamping ground. I guess you could say I am a connoisseur of the seedy.”


And what a connoisseur. Having amassed some 40,000 images,
Vici must have the UK’s most significant contemporary archive documenting
Britain’s changing streetscape, signage, retail and industrial architecture.
Not that this was ever her goal. “I just do it to please myself. It’s an enterprise I take seriously though, and really hard work – and I do get disillusioned from time to time.”

In fact, after her initial art school enthusiasm, Vici
didn’t return to the shopfront beat in earnest until the late 1990s. “But then
I was really dedicated for a few years, getting up at 6am every Sunday and setting
out to find shopfronts, whatever the weather. It was on a rainy Sunday morning
in 2002 that I realised this was an obsession. But it is a very
graphic-designery thing to do


And that’s what Vici is when not taking photos, working
freelance for a variety of publishers

as well as co-running, with poet Tamar Yoseloff,
the small poetry press Hercules Editions (which she has just left to
concentrate on her own imprint, Reverse Press).
And of course, she brings a designer’s
eye to every shot. Her photos are far from snaps. They are considered and
composed, often the result of long waits and much walking up and down, to get
the right image. “I sometimes take a friend with me, but they find it really
gruelling,” she says. “I get really obsessed with a location and just carry on
until I’ve walked so far that I trip over. Then I know it’s time to go home.”


Having been intimidated, threatened and chased from locations on
numerous occasions, it would, she admits, “be easier not to do it”. But then we would
all be deprived of a brilliant blog and a burgeoning array of books.

Because now Vici has turned to publishing some of her
collection in print form. “It would have been impossible without print on
demand and even then it takes a huge effort to put all the images together, but
the resulting quality is great.” Again, this doesn’t just happen, Vici admits
that she went through six sets of colour proofs before she was happy with the
book’s production values. Happily for shopfront fans, this first book – a
‘taster’ volume covering themes as diverse as dining out,
graffiti, technology and tradition – could lead to some 16 more, each devoted
to a single topic.


Names, grandeur and grimness are what make an image
,” says this obsessive chronicler of the changing high street. Long
may the Queen of Shopfronts continue to find them.

Elegy: Sampler – a themed compendium of vintage UK shop facades 
by Vici MacDonald with a foreword by Alan Dein,
is published by Reverse Press at £14.95 and is available here.