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.

Llandrindod Wells, Wales

December 24, 2014

For the last two Christmases we have come to The Metropole Hotel in Llandrindod Wells, Wales. Last year I joked that it looked like The Overlook Hotel in The Shining, basically because I’m hilarious, and so it serves me right that I am booked into room 235 this year. I notice, however, that there is no room 237 so I can only guess that other people must have seen the similarity and they can’t get people to book it. (By the way I’m writing this whilst sat in my dog costume in the caretaker’s office).

Llandrindod Wells is a beautiful place. It was a spa town in the 19th century and so the buildings are period and wonderful because of all the input of money from the wealthy Victorian visitors. It’s a small town in the heart of Wales and the locals all have thick Ivor The Engine accents. You could, until relatively recently, buy a huge Victorian terrace for a song but since the administration centre for the Welsh Assembly moved nearby the house prices have risen slightly. And it was popular with the hippies in the 1970s so there is a slight “far out man” coffee shop feel too.

So despite the fact that it is outside of the North West of England I thought I would continue to flex my photographic muscles and I went out today to do some street portraits. I also thought I would try out my Ektar colour negative film which has an ISO of 100, I usually use 400, to see what difference it makes, (I say that in the best train spotting voice I can muster). Initially, I was aware that my shutter speeds are a lot slower so it will be interesting to see the results. It’s meant to be a lot less grainy but I suspect that the lack of light on a low light sensitivity film might mean the images are darker.

I photographed a couple in front of a statue of Thomas Jones. The woman said I’ve just been crying but I’ll do it if I can where a hat. They found the fact that it was called ‘Strangers In Paradise’ amusing a) because they don’t consider their home town a paradise, (which it is), and b) because I asked them not to smile. Oh the irony. Next I stopped a man and his son whom both were wearing santa hats. I had noticed them before and was glad to see them again as I would like to reflect the changing times of year in my images.

Then I went up to the old fire station. It had a hand-written sign outside which said “KFC to open on 15th February”. I can only assume it was a joke but I stopped a woman who stood in front of the red doors and this particular sign for me. She suggested that I walk back into town as it was doubtful I would find many people in the direction she had just come from. Grateful for this local knowledge I headed back from where I had come. As I passed the back of an agricultural shop I saw an orange Mini car, (only to realise later that it was a stock car for racing). I entered the shop and consulted the five people behind the counter. One young woman, who was holding her young son in her arms, said I’ll ring the owner of the car and see if he’s okay with it. In the meantime , two more elderly gentlemen agreed to stand in front of it for me. One of them said in a thick Welsh accent “oh I used to live near Northwich”, (which is my home town). He said back in the 60s that he had played the drums in Nantwich and supported The Mersey Beats.

When the job was done I headed back into the town centre. I stopped a young chap with a bobble hat on and asked him to stand in a moody looking corner between two buildings and lean up against the wall. Noticing that my nemesis, the winter sun, was out in full splendour I thought I’d chance my arm and head to the lake but as suspected everywhere was drenched in it’s rays. I had the usual chat with someone who used to own my camera and then I headed to the area where the spa waters are. I photographed a couple in a location similar to the TV programme ‘The Prisoner’ and then I headed back to the hotel.

As I sat in the bar drinking my pint of bitter two young women sat next to me. They both had a shock of red hair and a pint of blackcurrant cider each. I leaned over and asked if I could photograph them holding their pints. They were lovely and smiley and up for the craic so I took my first interior shot. I’ll do my remaining five photographs this afternoon or tomorrow.