Text KARÍTAS HVÖNN BALDURSDÓTTIR Photos SIGRÍÐUR MARROW
„I grew up in times of supermarkets and wasn’t familiar with anything else. It was, therefore, an extraordinary experience to walk into Kjötborg, a small corner shop in Vesturbær, that has been operating since 1956. I had never seen anything like it – I felt
like I entered a completely different world“ says Sigríður Marrow, a photographer who
went on a journey to document corner shops across Iceland. When she started the
project, the remaining stores were 34, but since then, five of them have closed their
doors indefinitely. What was the inspiration for Sigríður to go on this journey?
,,The moment I walked into Kjötborg I knew that I had discovered material that I wanted to explore further and work with. A few years later during my master’s studies, I made a photo project about shopkeepers in Iceland. When the time came to write my thesis, I decided to continue with the project, develop it and travel around the country”. During her travels, Sigríður spent hours in each store getting to know the owners and customers through memorable conversations, making the experience authentic and rewarding.
,,I quickly realized that these stores play a role as community centers and visiting them is an important part of people’s daily life. In some of the smaller communities, the stores are often the only place where people can gather, get the latest news and discuss everything between politics and more personal matters. The storekeepers commonly find themselves in a role of psychologists, lending an ear to the ones in need. Many of the corner shops offer a delivery service for those who have difficulties getting out of the house, such as elderly people or patients. The children in the neighborhood come by for a bandage or even a refuge when they accidentally lock themselves outside. The brothers that own Kjötborg also keep keys for the people in the area. In times of impersonal interactions, high levels of stress and anxiety, there is a strong need for the intimacy and warmth that the shopkeepers have to offer.”
It wasn’t only the social aspect that caught Sigríður’s interest but also how unique the shops are in comparison to big supermarkets, where everything is organized in a specific order: ,,In those small corner shops the products are arranged in a surrealistic way where you might find a bottle of ketchup and a poetry book, side by side. The arrangements are human creations and possess a special character that is very unique between every shop.”
Even though the shop’s vivid and charming spirit was what inspired Sigríður to start the project in the first place, she explains how it has developed along the way and gained a deeper meaning. ,,First of all, the project is a certain monument, a historical reference of these corner shops. Secondly, it’s the sociological side of this world. I attempted to capture both the customers and owners in a metaphorical way and highlight the necessity of these corner shops within the community. Lastly, this world is very visual. The forms and the colors in the shops make them especially good footage.”
The project has received excellent feedback, and Sigríður’s final goal is to collect the material into a book. ,,It is likely that the book will gain more cultural value with each year that goes by. It will be priceless for future generations having access to this world, a cultural element that possibly, will be long gone.”