I was pleasantly surprised to discover an old friend from my home town of Cardiff, photographer Dan Green, has started a brilliant local photography blog Big Little City – ‘a window into the lives of those people who help give cities their unique character’. The site was born out of his first major exhibition, Cardiff Characters, which he has developed in his online space with pictures of people who epitomise Cardiff and reflect its ‘unique vibrancy and soul’.
The focus will be on highlighting communities and the people who make them tick be they a rugby star, a bus driver, a lollipop man or lady, an artist, waitress, café owner, musician, dancer, or eccentric.
It got me thinking about how people really make a place, and most communities have a few characters that you couldn’t imagine being without – be it because they’re local heroes, a bit eccentric, or just that they and what they do is such a long-standing local institution.
I can think of few from my neck of the woods, Digbeth, off the top of my head. John Tighe, landlord of my local The Spotted Dog, who won Birmingham it’s Not Shit’s Brummie of the Year 2007 for his fight against a Noise Abatement Order. His finest hour on Digbeth is Good is a film of him getting his head shaved for charity. Adam Crossley, author of Keep Digbeth Vibrant and Chair of the Digbeth & Highgate Residents’ Association, is always organising great local events with John and starting up quirky local websites.
And then there’s Mr Ralph. Mr Ralph is something of a Digbeth institution, invariably found in one of the many Digbeth pubs, peddling customised goods from his battered old suitcases. Rumour has it he holds the last existing Birmingham pedlars license. I found Mr Ralph quite fascinating so I wrote a blog post about him after he kindly agreed to it, including photos of him and his Mr Ralph branded goods.
Do you have any key local characters like this? People who really make your neighbourhood what it is? Talk to them, see if there’s a way you could present them and the great stuff they do online somehow – be it with photography, film or just writing about them with passion. Perhaps they’d like to contribute themselves, either on a regular basis or as a one-off with a story they want to tell. Try getting them and their voice onto your site, either by letting them speak for themselves or, if they’re a little shy, by telling as much of their story as they’re comfortable with. That way your site starts talking about ‘who’, as well as about ‘where’ and ‘what’.