I wrote this piece earlier in the year for a rather wonderful publication (news will follow in due course) but I realised I haven’t yet shared it with you. So here’s a beautiful story of a man, a camera and a bunch of people in a tiny, old village.
“It's just after 6pm on a Friday evening and today happens to be the first bank holiday of the year. The sun is still shining, welcome after a chilly spring and the little village of Carlingcott - a tiny, hidden spot in the Southwest of England - has something of a buzz about it as I wander up the narrow country lane, bumping into locals as I go.
I had discovered Carlingcott seven years ago after moving to a house in the next village and I had been disappointed to learn that The Beehive pub, it’s emblematic sign still swaying in the breeze, had been relegated to residential status some twenty years ago. I would later find out that it is home to notorious party-throwers Peter and Sarah who still ensure the drinks flow freely on celebration nights and that the village spirit is kept intact. Tonight is the opening of their 'skittle alley', which has gone from functioning alley to derelict outbuilding to the now beautiful, fully fitted office, screening room and party venue. Tonight it has one extra special purpose and that is to act as gallery for the 'Village Photography Project', creation of Paul Osborne, resident of 6 years.
Paul worked for many years as a manager for a technology company but spent much of his time distracted by something a little more creative; his love of photography. As a friend and neighbour I've been given access to his full catalogue. Looking through his work I see a project devoted to sheds (yes, the lowly, broken, wooden structures that punctuate gardens), lots of travel (he sailed the world as a boathand and still loves to capture the everyday lives of other cultures) and a smattering of live music; he’s a huge music fan and even as I flick through his work I am observed by Ian Curtis whose image decorates Paul’s kitchen wall alongside bandmates as part of a series of shots captured at a Joy Division gig. But a few years ago he decided to do something a little different. More personal. He wanted to capture a portrait of every village resident who lived there at that moment in time.
Carlingcott is believed to have existed as a settlement since the nineteenth century when most of the existing houses were built. The area was a thriving part of the Somerset coal mining industry and each village records a history of strong community, although this has fizzled out in many surrounding villages.
Chatting with Paul he explains that Carlingcott isn't just a collection of old buildings, it is a hive of creative activity and harbours a host of wonderful, different souls that needed to be recorded. So 4 years ago he set about contacting each occupant with a view to including them in his project, the idea being that he caught just one image of every resident in their everyday environment. And so begun a quest for 20 mins of everyone's time and the difficult task of capturing everyone's best - but most natural - side, around the village and in their own homes. Before beginning the project he says he knew perhaps a quarter of the village and the endeavour has put him in contact with almost everyone, which has elevated the undertaking to something even more personal than he'd anticipated.
Carlingcott has all the tranquility of your quintessential English country hamlet and yet it is rarely silent. It is home to screenwriters, chefs, musicians, healers, teachers, potters and an Oscar-winning makeup artist to name but a few. It's a melting pot of talents and passions and suddenly the desire to distill this varied tapestry makes complete sense.
While we chat, Paul points out that two longstanding villagers have passed away. He says that this sad news makes the task even more important to him. It certainly does add poignancy to an already moving project.
And so on this sunny Friday evening with hot air balloons rising over the horizon a little before sunset we gather in this beautiful, shared village space to share stories, drink wine and take in the fruits of Paul's labour. Captivating black and white faces hold us in their gaze as we tour the new-old space; all ages, different races and even family pets get a look in. Paul has captured a community at its most authentic and it is really quite magical.
As the sun disappears over the Westcountry hills a common thread unites the village once more.”
Huge thanks to all of Paul’s participants and especially to Paul himself and to Sarah Swords for help putting this article together.