We had a conversation with Melissa DeWitt, a photography enthusiast who moved to London from Chicago over 25 years ago. She is the owner of Hotshoe 333 at 333 Portobello Road, and the director and editor of Hotshoe Magazine, one of the UK’s leading photography publications since 1977.
Tell us a bit about yourself: where you are from and how you got where you are today.
I moved to London in 1993 from Chicago and went back to school as a “mature” student to study Fine Art at St Martin’s College, and be a working artist. In 2003, I started Hotshoe magazine with Charles Taylor. The magazine showcases different portfolios which touch on various themes in photography.
Tell us about the idea around Hotshoe 333 and what inspired you to start it.
We used to have a big gallery space in Farringdon but the rents got too high so we had to move, but we didn’t want to lose the community and the platform we’d built to showcase photographers in an exhibition space. One of my interns at the time was a barista at the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, which was one of the first speciality coffee roasters in London. We thought a speciality coffee shop with a curated selection of photo books and a rotating schedule of exhibitions would be a great way to carry on showcasing work and, at the same time help to support and promote the magazine.
What themes has your magazine touched upon so far?
We started by publishing portfolios of emerging photographers alongside well established names, but then when others started doing the same thing, and with the availability of information online, our content changed, as did our format in both size and design. We’re continually morphing in response to our audience and environment. We now work to themes including: New York Youth; This Was England, (which was made up of portfolios from photographers looking at England from 1970 to 1990 during the Thatcher years); Southern; and Street.
Where does the name ‘Hotshoe’ come from?
Hotshoe is where the flash goes into a camera body. The magazine actually goes back to the 1970s. When we bought it we kept the name, but changed the content from being a photography industry magazine to a showcase of photographic portfolios.
What are the top galleries you’d recommend to find good photography in London?
Some of the best galleries don’t just show photography. They have a real understanding of how important space, light and scale are to how the work is perceived. A few of my favourite spaces are: Large Glass art gallery in Islington; Frith Street in Soho; Jerwood Space in Southwark; Photofusion in Brixton; Four Corners in Bethnal Green; David Hill Gallery in Ladbroke Grove; Union in Bethnal Green; HackelBury in Kensington; Michael Hoppen in Chelsea; and, of course, the Photographers’ Gallery tucked off Oxford on Ramillies Street in Soho.
What kind of photography have you experimented with?
I experimented with all kinds of photography and equipment at art school and settled on large format, but I’m not very technical. I didn’t study photography. I actually studied sculpture, but I always loved using photography as a medium. I love the process and the immediacy.
Who are your favourite photographers?
Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander are some of my favourites. They were all part of the exhibition, New Documents at MoMA in 1967, curated by the legendary John Szarkowski who described their aim as “not to reform life but to know it”.
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What are your favourite places to travel and why?
I often go back to the States as I have so much family there. This summer I am going to Chicago and then driving with my brother to North Carolina on a trip to research our genealogy. Then I’d love to stop in Savannah on my way to see my sisters in Florida, where I always try to go to Sanibel and Captiva, which are islands in southwest Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge covers about half of Sanibel. I like places that feel old fashioned where I can just do nothing, eat good food and be close to nature.