About ten years ago now, the photographer John Angerson – most known for his striking portraiture as seen in his depictions of Grayson Perry or Peter Capaldi – was living in Bradford, West Yorkshire. During this time, he came across a rare, first edition copy of the JB Prisetley’s English Journey and “knew instantly that I had to create a modern version of it,” he tells us of this chance finding.
In Priestley’s seminal account of contemporary England at the time, the author recounts his travels during 1933 shedding light on the social issues at the time, revealing a much-needed democratic and socialist change in society. In John’s own words, he tells It’s Nice That: “Priestley walked through a country which still depended on agriculture and heavy industry. England was then ravaged by poverty but yet to be ravaged by the Luftwaffe and the post-war planners.”
In turn, John embarked on a photographic journey, following the English Journey’s geographical route to unveil an updated visual version of events for today. Embracing the book’s byline, John attempted to capture the original text’s spontaneity; “a rambling but truthful account of what one man saw and heard and felt and thought during a journey through England.” And, as John’s trip took shape, he witnessed a similar kind of global economic downturn as Priestley experienced nearly 100 years ago now. “Americanisation and homogenisation seemed to penetrate almost every town and city,” John says on the matter. “The England I discovered is manufacturing less and becoming highly reliant on technology. While celebrity culture and the media stronghold are fast becoming a national obsession.”
Captured over the past three years, John’s latest series – along with the documentation of artefacts collected along the way – has now been published in a new book of the same title as Priestley’s. Providing evidence to “our collective idea of Englishness”, the book takes us on a tour of country cottages, farmyard animals, delivery van depots and even Liverpool’s Anfield football stadium.
On this last location John further explains, “It took many months of persuasion to gain access to the Anfield ground. The marketing team all seemed completely perplexed when I spent a whole day photographing just the turf.” Drawing out the historical importance that lawns and grass have occupied the English dogma for centuries, to highlight this obsession John has even covered gallery floors with fake grass in past exhibitions of the series.
All in all, the vast project presented John with several unexpected encounters from time to time. Mostly regarding the difficulty in gaining access to a number of locations. “I knew I would need some sort of official accreditation” says John. “But I found that so many PR departments are becoming increasingly stringent as to how their organisations are portrayed.” Representing another sign of our times that differs greatly from Priestley’s, John even had to check in as a holidaymaker to photograph on the location of a well-known holiday company. “I ended up shooting images around the complex surreptitiously” he adds, “riding around on a rented bicycle.”
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