Snowboarder and photographer Sam Mellish (above) has spent the last decade travelling the world shooting images for the UK’s best snowboarding magazines. It’s a breadth of experience that has undoubtedly influenced his latest project: Roadside Britain. Four years in the making, Roadside Britain is an ambitious undertaking that saw Sam travel across the UK and Ireland in an attempt to capture the unique flavour of the UK’s roadside culture.
It’s a project that seeks to legitimise this precious, endangered area of UK working class culture by treating it with the same respect and seriousness that underpinned the work of Beat photographer forebears such as Robert Frank.
But this is no mere homage. There’s a huge amount of heart and poignancy in Sam’s work, which offers the same blend of unpretentious, accessible reportage that has always informed his best snowboarding work. Roadside Britain succeeds in capturing an irreplaceable slice of UK culture at a critical time, reminding us that there is much more to life on our islands than that usually portrayed by the mainstream.
We went along to the launch of Sam’s book at London gallery The Printspace, and grabbed a few words with him to find out more about the book.
Tell us about Roadside Britain.
It’s called Roadside Britain – and it’s observations of roadside services in the UK, inspired by Route 66 culture. Some of it’s tongue in cheek, some of it’s quite funny, but my main reason for doing it is to document the social changes that have taken place on the road in the UK.
How did you get into it?
I studied at Westminster University and they asked us to do a major project – something in the UK, something I could really concentrate on. I was driving back to my parents’ in Norfolk and I saw this beat up burger van, and I thought ‘There’s my project, that’s what I’m going to do’.
Which photographers and artists influenced the project? In a way it’s a real piece of social reportage.
I really like the work of Paul Graham. He did an amazing book in the 80s called The A1. The A1 is the Great North Road that literally goes from Central London into Edinburgh. So he was the main inspiration, as were the Beat photographers from America like Robert Frank and Stephen Shaw. And my friends inspire me to do a lot of stuff. They’re really creative and artistic so I bounce off that as well.
What did the subjects think of the project?
95& of the people were really, really cool. Really understood it, really got it. Left me to do my own thing really. A few people didn’t, but most people are just cool and are happy to be involved and just participate really.
How long did the entire thing take?
From start to finish it took four years. Yeah, a proper labour of love. I fitted it in around photography commissions, and building my freelance careers, to stop the boredom kicking in.
Did you follow a particular route?
Yeah. Well it started off in three stages. I started off doing from London to Land’s End. The A30 and the A303 were the main routes that I chose, because of the reroute of the A30, the A303 was really popular with lots of interesting little cafes and culture. From that, I got funding from the Arts Council to do East Anglia. So I spent a lot of time, probably a year or so, documenting the trunk roads around East Anglia. Then I did the A1 like Paul Graham, the A5 into Wales – I spent about three weeks in Wales – and sort of grew the project. I didn’t really think I would just do one road, it was all a bit impromptu really.
How did you publish the project?
Well, Diesel Books is something I set up to publish it myself. I funded it myself in a variety of ways – saving the pennies from my photography career, some Arts Council funding as I mentioned. I mean, when I did the project I just lived pretty organically. Sometimes I’d take a tent and camp by the road, other times I’d sleep in the back of my car. It was really just one big road trip.
Where can people get a copy for themselves?
I use a distribution company called Central and hopefully they’ll help me get it in the shops. And I’ve been speaking to Foyles in London about stocking it as well.
Do you have anything lined up next?
The route system for the roads in Europe is also really interesting. Like, the A5 is like the E1, and really the A5 goes from Holyhead all the way to Russia. The scope is endless really.
Head to http://dieselbooks.co.uk/books/ to order your own copy.Tweet