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.

St Helens

January 19, 2015

When I was in Haydock I photographed a woman dressed in red with a scarf around her face. She said at the time “I’m an actress and would you do my head shots?”. So after a few phone conversations I arranged to travel over to her house in St Helens today and take some photographs of her as well as her Rottweiler dog.

As St Helens is on my list of places to visit for my project ‘Strangers In Paradise’ I decided to head there first and take my 12 portraits. I suspect trying to get them done within three or so hours will have an impact on the results as I rushed through them. However, I had fun and that’s the main thing.

St Helens is an industrial town in Merseyside and although it is not the wealthiest of places and is slightly run down it has a lot of character and there is a great community feeling.

To symbolise this community feeling I first stumbled across an amazing, modern building with colourful shafts at it side and that is where I took my first photograph. It is a tribe of people that obviously believe in looking after each other and the look of their doctor’s is as important as the care it delivers. I was delighted when an elderly lady in a stylish blue coat stopped for me with the shafts of yellow, red and blue in the background.

My third port of call was a young man outside a place of worship. I assumed he was a man of god but when he called out a middle aged woman to stand for me too it transpired that they were converting the building into a cinema. I had a chat with them about their venture and they then headed me off into the centre of town.

I photographed people in the usual abstract painting compositions with the use of colourful bins and plaques and doors. One man was a musician who told me about the videos he makes with the use of stop motion animation. He said he was about to play at a local pub and invited me to come and listen which is something that I would have done had I not got the appointment later on with the actress.

I was thinking to myself how friendly the people are in Merseyside as I set up my camera by a bus stop. As I felt a warm glow towards the locals an elderly woman passed by and uttered loudly “what a knobhead!” in a thick Liverpudlian voice. This made me chortle rather than change my view of the diddy people.

At one point I headed over to a factory in the distance and was heartened to see in big letters the word ‘Pilkington’. In all my 44 years I hadn’t realised that the eponymous glass manufacturer was based in this town.

Lastly I set up a shot which I really quite liked as it was a beautiful building and had smoke pouring out of a pipe in the wall. I sometimes hit spots where no one will stop for me and this was one of them. Eventually a well dressed man came and chatted with me. He was incredibly polite and said he was from the council. It soon dawned on me that he was asking me to move on as it was council property. The British are known for being indirect but this man was so polite that his desire to move me on was unfathomable, however, I did as he wished.

A great day and town but I don’t hold too much hope for the results.