Extraordinary in the ordinary

Friday was one of those peculiar days when it had been extraordinarily busy. In the ordinary course of things, I would expect to spend more than half of my time waiting, whether on the taxi rank for work to materialise, or at specific destinations in and around Abingdon and Didcot. 

Pressure to earn money is so unremitting that even when an evening off has been scheduled, there is always the temptation on a day when there is more moving than being still, to carry on working: one more job. 

So it was on Friday, when a regular customer called at the end of the day, to ask if I could collect her partner, from a town centre pub.  By the time I had safely transported him to a village in rural Oxfordshire, the other side of Abingdon, I was late for my planned night off, at an art gallery in Oxford.  

Or rather, two art galleries, for Kazem Hakimi’s fifty photographic portraits are being shown across two venues: Old Fire Station and Modern Art Oxford, or Museum of Modern Art as it used to be called and by which I sometimes still refer to it, erroneously, without thinking. 

A kindred spirit, Kaz and I are both self-employed and we both work long and anti-social hours, for our livings. He has sold me fish and chips in Oxford for more than thirty-one years, latterly from his shop on Iffley Road, where these photographs of his customers were taken. 

It is significant that his work is being shown in buildings in Oxford City Centre which were formerly a fire station and a brewery, serving people who used to live in the city centre.  

"Oxford at the centre of the world"

"Oxford at the centre of the world"

There were huge crowds at Kaz’s opening night preview, adjacent to the new Westgate building site, which incorporates parts of the 1972 shopping centre which it replaced. In itself, that was at the height of the process of the gentrification of the city centre and the ostracism of the working classes, to the outer estates of Oxford. 

The hyperbolic flannel on the hoarding of the Westgate building site – “the missing piece to Oxford’s already rich mosaic” – and its recent addition of art work, citing Oxford as the centre of the world, is wholly unnecessary and anachronistic. It is a shopping centre, such as can be found anywhere in England. 

But there is a quiet dignity in many of those who work hard for their living and there is beauty redolent in Kaz’s photographs, which show something of the spirit of Oxford itself, through his portraits of those of us who live here. 

What he offers in his tiny chip shop in east Oxford, is something more than merely fish and chips.   He is an erudite and intelligent soul, with kindness and creativity ablaze in his eyes. He shows not only respect for those whom he serves, but love. 

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday 10 May 2017

Old Fire Station, Exhibition: Kazem Hakimi: Portraits From A Chip Shop, 06 May to 02 July 2017, as consulted 09 May 2017
Modern Art Oxford, Kazem Hakimi: Portraits From A Chip Shop, 02 May to 02 July 2017, as consulted 09 May 2017
The Oxford Times, Westgate shopping centre through the years, 29 November 2014, as consulted 09 May 2017