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.

Ellesmere Port

March 5, 2015

I was going to say that I have never visited Ellesmere Port before but then I noticed Cheshire Oaks retail park as I left and that would have meant I was telling porkies. I met a university friend there a few years back and funnily enough the owner of Balti Stan in Accrington told a story of Cheshire Oaks when we were there last week.

As the name suggests it is a large town and port on the Wirral so I was back in my beloved Merseyside. It was an overflow town for Liverpool and the demand for housing increased with the opening of the Vauxhall Motors car plant in 1962.

I get the remark “pah Paradise!” at least once when I mention that my project is called ‘Strangers In Paradise’ however today almost everyone said it. They had a rye smile on their face so at least they were good humoured about it. It’s not the prettiest of places but there are some great gems dotted about.

As my friend Ant intimated the paradise just refers to my experience as opposed to the actual towns and cities I visit. When I get in the car to drive to wherever I am about to go my stomach is usually slightly knotted with life’s usual trials and tribulations. However, as soon as I arrive and my camera is out those feelings soon dissipate and I enter a state of ‘flow’. It’s almost a meditation and I feel calm, relaxed and happy. It’s because it’s playful, adventurous, I’m breathing in the fresh air, I’m getting exercise, you realise people no matter how rough they look are genuinely friendly on the whole and above all I am concentrating. Happiness comes to me when I am focused on something I enjoy. If I chase it, it tends to be elusive.

There were lots of flags in Ellesmere Port, either the St George’s Cross or the Union Jack. Whether this reflects a far right tendency or whether it’s just the fact that people have kept them up since the last World Cup I don’t know. There was definitely fewer people of colour or Eastern European immigrants in this town but this is my own limited empirical observation.

I photographed a lot of ‘ooths’ who were happy to look tough, put up their hoodies, show too much midriff, smoke a cigarette like James Dean. This was all playfulness on their part - most of us at some point pretend to be a movie star or pop star so when given the chance to act this out we know what to do.

I managed to find a website that sells the film I use for the old price so I eagerly bought four packs. This means that I have twenty rolls of 120 film left to do this project. It’s sad because I would love to do this forever but everything must come to an end. So I will relish these final few months and enjoy every moment.