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 25, 2015

I have started to revisit some of the places that I had difficulties with previously. When I went to Chester last time I aborted my mission as I felt that the town was just not right for me. However, having done this for almost a year now I can see people and places to photograph that I didn’t see before.

Chester to me is Auntie Bessie and Uncle Arthur. It’s also Chester Zoo and a nightclub or two when I was a bit more youthful. Auntie Bessie made the best scones in the world and she also was incredibly kind and good humoured when I would sometimes quickly fish out her false teeth. I was 27 at the time so there was no excuse. They were a special couple of people and in fact Uncle Arthur looked like Arthur Askey and was just as funny.

I probably needed a rest from doing street portraits for a bit and wasn’t particularly keen to go today but I’m glad I did as I had a blast. I think I was suffering from a little performance anxiety. I publish all 12 images each week and I think I was feeling a slight pressure to produce something better than average each time. However, all these thoughts are shackles and so I banished them to where they belong. This project is just about connecting with people and having fun and that’s it.

On his death bed JMW Turner is meant to have uttered “The sun is God” just before he died. I think he was on to something as the sun is as capricious and mean spirited as the gods and likes nothing more than to play around with mere mortals such as photographers. Often I had to abandon places because the sun glared it’s ghastly light everywhere. It’s true I am a miserable sod.

One example is that I saw six fire fighters outside the fire station and I asked one of them to stand for me. They were picketing in defiance of the government’s change of pensionable age for fire fighters. I explained that I once worked in pensions so I understand why there is this shift from defined benefit schemes to defined contribution, however, after speaking with him I agree that it’s hugely unfair to expect people in the fire service and indeed other manual work, such as nurses, to carry on working to the same age as everyone else. Anyway, I digress, whilst we talked and the fireman stood for me I was waiting for the unruly sun to go behind a cloud but he refused so I had to abandon the shot.

However, I photographed plenty of other people and I had a great time. As for the results, meh, whatever, speak to the hand and any other Jerry Springer phrase I can think of.