Book Review: Stokes Croft & Montpelier by Colin Moody

Back in October (how time flies when you intend to write a blog) I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Colin Moody‘s new book, “Stokes Croft & Montpelier“, a photographic documentary of what could be described as the ultimate bohemian neighbourhood of Bristol.

Cover art of photography book Stokes Croft & Montpelier by Colin Moody
Stokes Croft & Montpelier by Colin Moody

What Colin uncovered during his months of research and photography was a diverse and enthusiastic community. A community with a strong sense of belonging, creativity, nonconformity, transience and permanence. All this within the space of a small village, yet stuck between the centre and suburbs of a thriving city. Stokes Croft is a gateway to the commercial, retail and entertainment heart of Bristol, yet Colin focuses his lens on those who have set up home and business in what to many is just another gridlocked road. In this respect he has succeeded in capturing those who work and play along this corridor – capturing the heart of a community often seen as troublesome and chaotic. This is a happy documentary, a celebration of an area and its people.

Two people walk down Picton Street in Bristol. One has their arm around the other. The photograph is desaturated.

What I really enjoyed about the book is the mixture of candid public street with intimate moments captured within homes, workshops, offices and community spaces. His homage to Cartier Bresson’s bike & staircase was a lovely inclusion, but this isn’t what makes the book. What makes it for me is the pulse of energy that radiates through the movement and emotion captured on almost every page. Perhaps what will come as a surprise to many is that the majority of imagery in the book was captured on mobile phones and GoPro cameras.

The only thing that I would have liked Colin to expand upon would have been a nod to the student population that lives within and traverses through the area during term time. While sometimes not seen in the same way as the more permanent residents, this group have a significantly high impact on the neighbourhood, especially when the weather turns warm and late night street parties throw thumping beats into an otherwise still night and dancers bring traffic to a standstill. But perhaps my view is tainted by my own relationship with Stokes Croft & Montpelier.

At the book launch I overheard one person describe this as an easy book to make. I disagree with that statement. The hardest part of this book would have been the trust that Colin would have needed to gain from those he worked with. To be let into the lives of those he has photographed takes as much if not more skill than pointing the camera and pressing the button.

A person dressed in a pink coat leans against a railing. In the background is a block of flats. The colour of the flats matches that of the coat.

When I asked Colin what he felt he hadn’t been able to include in the book he talked passionately about how he wished he could have included more imagery of the churches, faith and religion present in the area. He talked about the people who wouldn’t agree to be photographed, how he respected their decision but felt it left out important historical and cultural links within the book.

Stokes Croft & Montpelier” is an important part of the history of the area. It is a moment in time and a vision of what has been and what could be.