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.


January 27, 2015

Congleton is one of those towns that I was aware of in my youth. It was part of the vernacular of everyday conversations with my family and friends but apart from going to the swimming baths there I realised today that I had never visited the town centre before.

I drove there this morning and parked very near the leisure centre where I used to swim. A bit like Wagon Wheels or Curly Wurlys it looks a lot smaller now that I am an adult.

Similar to Macclesfield, Congleton is strewn with old mills, both silk and cotton. It was famous for bear-baiting and cockfighting and has history going back to Neolithic times. Today it’s known for the manufacturing of airbags and golf-balls and indeed a lot of the mills are converted into sterile offices and yuppie apartments that I suspect no one can afford. I would describe Congleton as Macclesfield injected with a good dose of Crewe. It has the potential to be a stunning town but it has downtrodden running through its veins.

I found today to be sluggish. No one wanted to stop and I abandoned positions only to return to them later. I think this is a good way for me to look at life, in other words, if I find I’m stagnating or I feel like I’m on a treadmill then it’s better to abandon what I’m doing and look for pastures new. Opportunities arise and I now take them as they come, however, they don’t always pay off but I find that another opportunity takes its place further down the line and its often a better one. Note to self: just relax and go with the flow.

I am now fearless and I’m greedy for images so whereas at the start of the project I would have found setting up my camera in the middle of a town centre slightly frightening now I don’t give it two thoughts. I feel bold as a peacock. However, this fearlessness is like drifting away from my old sensibilities and I realised today that I was often putting people in embarrassing situations. One thing the British cannot bear is embarrassment or being made a fool of in public, they would rather be made to marry a badger or pluck their eyeballs out with a fork than be embarrassed. So for me to stand by a derelict shop in the middle of Congleton it was no biggie but I began to realise that for other people this was a dreadful thought and hence a lot of people said “no”. I was very glad in the end when a woman with a bag saying “I love to shop” stood for me.

So I took my twelve images and I tried different things but I feel in my gut that very few of them will be successes. However, this bothers me not.