Heidi Alexander and The Stockport Collection

Even before its June 2021 publication Heidi Alexander’s photobook, The Stockport Collection, had already received enough attention to cause Heidi’s inbox to overflow with personal memories and anecdotes from those who had lived in or just passed through the Northern town during the 70s, a period reflected in the images from the book.


But one message in particular stood out to the Swiss-born, American photographer.


It was a day Heidi would never forget, just three days after sending out a “cheeky” sample copy of The Stockport Collection to renowned British documentary photographer and personal idol Martin Parr she had a reply.


“I remember well the charm of Stockport Market from when I was a student at Manchester Polytechnic in the early ’70s. Heidi has captured that time and period very well in this book,” reads Parr’s quote.


“I want everyone to know that Martin Parr likes my book,” Heidi said after insisting he is quoted on the cover.

'Portrait of Mr Haq'

Heidi’s journey all began at age 11 when her father passed on his photography passion and a point-and-shoot camera which would become a Leica in her later teen years.


“Being photographed and having photography books and cameras were just the norm for me, even though it was the 50s and 60s.”


After moving to Scotland - from Switzerland - in 1969, Heidi became an undergraduate at Stirling University and would spend several weekends in Stockport, visiting a friend.


Fascinated by the lively local market and the unique qualities of the northern, working-class community, Heidi dug out her Leica M4 and several rolls of film.

'Derbyshire Stoneware Pottery'

Eventually, marriage, parenthood, a career in social work and the digital age would lead to the negatives and slides being boxed up and dragged from house to house.


Fast forward to the April 2020 covid lockdown, when one of Heidi's siblings requested an old family photo she unearthed some of her old photography and using a scanner borrowed from a friend discovered some iconic imagery of Greater Manchester almost half a century old.


"I came across this Spanish couple who call themselves The RAW Society and I'd post some of these photos, they'd have monthly critiques, and they'd rave about them. I wasn't so sure, I thought they were just being romantic about 1970s Britain.


"I'm not a good editor of my work at all but they kept encouraging me."


With the encouragement of The Raw Society co-founders Jorge Delgado-Ureña and Christelle Enquist, Heidi posted the Stockport photos on to her website.

'Freddy Wyatt's fruit and veg stall with broom'

Heidi reached out to The British Culture Archive, who enthusiastically responded “One of the greatest pleasures at British Culture Archive is stumbling across a body of work such as Heidi’s.”


Heidi then tried to show The Guardian her work after even more encouragement from Jorge and Christelle.


Nothing.


Heidi contacted the Culture and Arts Department and still nothing. She then asked her son, who works for the Foreign Office in London, for help.


His partner, who by good fortune happened to be a freelance journalist for The Guardian, put a good word in and by January, Heidi received an email from a Picture Editor from The Guardian asking for high-resolution images.


"That was exciting, my feet didn’t touch the ground. If it had all stopped there, I would have been happy."


With her photos now on The Guardian's website, readers were immediately filling up Heidi's inbox with anecdotes and memories of Stockport.

'Breaking News'

"It just went bananas," Heidi said. "It was incredible.


"My inbox was full of all these personal stories. What you see in the book in terms of personal stories is minimal compared to what I received online."


Seeing their family and friends in those photos moved the readers to tears and they were eager to know when the images would be published.


Unsure of how to print these tiny scans, Heidi received an email from Robert Shaw of Northbank.


Robert explained to Heidi that he was from Stockport and loved the images and the memories they gave him. He then told her it should be a book and he'd love to be the one to do it.


Rob and Heidi at BOP21

"I really felt that in the end, it was a communal production because there was all the encouragement at the beginning and then all the feedback online, identifying people, and then The Guardian, and then Rob came on board.


"He said 'I don't want any money, I just want to do this. If you knew the boring graphic design we had to draw through covid lockdowns, this is what gets me up in the morning.' So he was very happy and his wife said this book got him through that second lockdown."


With emails of family members with Alzheimer’s remembering the names of friends after seeing the photos, Heidi knew she wanted her book to be easy to hold for the elderly.


She also stipulated that each photo should be given enough room to ‘breathe’ with the usage of black pages on the inside covers to evoke memories of a family photo album.

Finally, with a bright orange cover to stand out on the bookshelf, an excellent foreword by Paul Morley, and the must-have quote by Martin Parr, the book was perfect in Heidi’s eyes.


The final step was to get it published.


On May 21, the Kickstarter went live.


One month and 194 backers later, more than £7000 had been pledged and the book was ready for print.


"It feels like my job now is to keep getting these books out."


Since then Heidi has had a table at the Books on Photography Fair 2021 at The Paintworks in Bristol, which led to her getting to meet Martin Parr.

Martin Parr getting a signed copy of Heidi's book at BOP21

“To me, Martin Parr is a bit of a hero. He came up and stated: “You owe me a book!”, which was immensely flattering because it meant he remembered his pleasure in the 20-page sample version I’d sent him back in the spring.”


Heidi plans to donate 50 books to the Stockport Council for their libraries, elderly memory groups, and to go into school libraries for their local history.


If you want to order a copy of The Stockport Collection (£20 plus £6 postage), you can email Heidi here.

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