Morgan Arcade Studios: creativity and spark, hidden away upstairs in beautiful surroundings

In the middle of October, the Morgan Arcade Studios in the, er, Morgan Arcade, threw open their doors for curious passers-by to come and have a look at the workspace as part of Cardiff Design Festival.

The studio is the first place in the arcade that I’ve featured which isn’t a shop that is open to the public. Instead, it’s a place where people can have some office space without having to rent out a whole building.

I have a couple of friends who work in here, and I had always imagined that it was more like a co-working space where people can come and go as they please (such as Indycube, in the Castle Arcade). Therefore, I expected it to be a little blank and impersonal. Not to say that that’s a bad thing, but I hadn’t quite realised that the people occupying this space were pretty much permanent fixtures.

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Cardiff Arcades from a totally different perspective…

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of borrowing a Nikon D4 and an 8mm fisheye lens.

What better subject for such a combination than the beautiful arcade architecture?

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Fred and Grace’s: if you’re not feeling broody before this post, you probably will be after

Fred and Grace’s was one of the shops I wanted to do from the start of this project. It’s probably a bit odd for a woman with no children to immediately know this shop, but what can I say, every time I walk past it I can’t help but do a head “awww” at the tiny little clothes in the window.

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Ushi’s: Papier mache mannekins, beautiful clothes and chairs on walls

It seems odd to think of it now, but Ushi’s was actually the shop that inspired the whole project. Quite the accolade you might think – but it was an interesting display in the window that caught my eye way back when and set the ball rolling.

So when I got the chance to photograph Ushi’s properly I was very excited at finally filling the gaps in. Ushi’s is one of the bigger shops in the Morgan Arcade and is owned by Lynne Beresford who I met with when I was photographing the shop.

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Hobo’s: Down and dirty vintage in the High Street Arcade

Well where to start with this post? I’ve wanted to shoot from the very start of the project. I interviewed Ben, who set up the shop, a few years ago while I was a student and I knew the shop, being the cave of wonders that it is, would make for fantastic photographs – much like Looby Loo’s only down the road.

I mentioned to Ben that I think of Hobo’s as one of the iconic arcade shops, and his smile said it all. When I put it in the same sentence as Spillers, he couldn’t have been happier.

Hobo’s was established in 1991, but only came to Cardiff in 1994, and has been going pretty much strong ever since. Ben says that this current recession matches the one in the early 1990s, and, having a background in economics (he studied third world economics at Uni) he’s not optimistic that things are going to get much better – recession wise anyway – for a long time yet.

As you might imagine, Hobo’s is popular with the student community, so Ben worries that any change in the student finance system will have a knock on effect on his business. When he went to Uni, education was free and there were more grants available. Even when I was at Uni, it was relatively inexpensive, now it’s going to be £9,000 a year, more students might to become a bit more frugal and a new outfit might be furthest from their mind.

On the other hand, Ben reckons you can pick up a whole new outfit for around £35 in the shop – which is what you might pay for a single shirt in somewhere like Topshop, so it’s definitely a good alternative for those feeling pinch.

You could be forgiven for thinking that a place like Hobo’s would fit the trend for all things vintage right now, but Ben reckons that what’s actually in trend right now is a much more sanitised version of vintage. Think pretty teacups, 50s cocktail dresses, Mad Men, you get the picture. You won’t really find any of this stuff in Hobo’s, it’s a much more down and dirty version of vintage, where you might find a 70s teapot (sans flowers) rather than a dainty little china teacup.

In recent times, Ben says there has been much less footfall through the High Street Arcade, but isn’t too concerned. When Primark first opened on Queen Street a few years ago, the sales in Hobo’s plummeted, almost overnight, apparently, but eventually people came back. He reckons the same will happen after St David’s has been open for a bit longer – right now everything is new, shiny and exciting. He’s happy that so many people think of Hobo’s as a destination though. He recounts stories to me of teenagers from the Valleys, Newport and pretty much everywhere telling him they come to Cardiff with Hobo’s their first calling point.

For now at least, Hobo’s is sticking around. It’s clear Ben loves his job, who wouldn’t enjoy chilling out in their own shop being surrounded by what is essentially one big hobby (and listening to some amazing music along the way)? Long may it continue, and let’s hope for a big Hobo’s party for 20 years in 2014…

This was another shoot where I probably outstayed my welcome chatting away… so there’s probably a cavalcade of information that I’ve forgotten to include here… I’ll update if any flashes of inspiration come to me!

Enjoy the photos, don’t worry there’s more over on Flickr if you can’t get enough. As always, feedback very, very much appreciated!

The very well, if a little chaotic, stocked upstairs. I asked Ben if it was OK to take a photo of it to which he very enthusiastically replied that he though it'd make an interesting photo (woo-hoo!). I'm told there's also more in the loft and the basement...

Ben who set up Hobos seems most at home among the piles (and piles) of stock...

Pete, who works in the shop can talk for hours about his big passion - music - so if you've got a couple of hours free, pop in for a chat!

Attempting the staff stairs is very precarious....