Documenting Britain

Strangers in Paradise

I am embarking on a series called Strangers In Paradise named after the song by Tony Bennett. I will photograph people in the streets of the Northwest of England and sometimes further afield. It is an exploration of people in Britain in the tenties as well as an investigation into the happiness tenet of smiling at and speaking with strangers.


February 28, 2015

My Dad was born in Lancashire and having turned seventy recently decided to make a trip up to Accrington to photograph all the houses from his youth and beyond. I asked to come along too as Accrington is on my list of places to visit for this project.

I know this part of the world through my paternal grandparents who lived here as I grew up. They lived in a town called Oswaldtwistle which has a lovely ring to it. My memories are the usual odd mixture of the mundane but for some reason they have remained etched in my memory. I remember playing bowls with my Grandpa who was a lovely, kind hearted man. My other two memories are being in the back of my grandparent’s car and opening up a toy set of the TV programme ‘The Professionals’ and playing with the toy gun and plastic handcuffs and when I was about fifteen buying a Prince album at a local record shop.

This part of the world has a very distinctive style. The stone is sandy in colour and the streets are full of sloped terraced housing with connecting back alleys. It was a mill town during the hay day of the textile industry.

We are opposite Accrington Stanley football club, a funeral parlour called ‘Champ’ and we ate at a restaurant called ‘Balti Stan’. If you say these words with the local dialect you can’t help but bubble up with an affectionate chortle. The woman in front of me kept saying to her daughter “do you want a panini? How about a cheese toastie?”. If you know the comedian Peter Kay you will understand why I had to bite my lip so as not to spit out my mouthful of chocolate tiffin. The dialect has an amusing musicality to it.

When I first arrived I set up my camera by a shop that had recently closed down. The roads are incredibly busy here and that along with a string of people saying “no” made me come over all Victor Meldrew for a while. However, I eventually calmed down when an elderly gentleman came along and had a chat with me about about his favourite Cartier-Bresson photographs and when I said “would you stand for me?” he said no but he would ask his friend who worked in the computer shop. “He’s restored my faith in Muslims” he said, which is heartening as this area is known for it’s racial tension. His friend kindly stood for me and then I was off on my adventure.

I tried to get a flavour of the architecture as it’s my first jaunt into this county. I photographed a couple of hipster barbers who also do a line in taxidermy and I asked the leader of a martial arts school if two of their students would stand outside in all their garb. I photographed a man called Alan Kitchen who regaled me with tales of taking out chaps with hand grenades with right hooks in some part of the world or other. He told me to look up him up in the News of the World archive as he was on the front cover in 1974.

So it was a lot of fun. For the first time I was stopped by the police however having said that I was set up outside the police station so it’s understandable. I asked if they wanted me to move on they said “oh no, don’t worry.”

I really look forward to returning to Lancashire shortly.