• and featured as a Guardian Photo Essay



    Would you ever open your door to a stranger, and welcome him in to take your photograph? Without any warning or introduction, without any time to prep or tidy up, and without any guarantee for your safety?


    That’s what I set out to see. I start at the very top, knocking on doors, unsure what I’m going to say as they open. Finishing one floor, my assistant and I take the stairs to the next one down, and start knocking again.

    I’m now inside, and this man has dementia. He was keen to meet the new person in his living room, and we talked like old friends about the small things in life: the birds, the bees, and the world contained in his sideboard.


    The conversation rotated on a circular track, coming back time and again, only noticed by the one of us. His wife, in the background and just out of shot, sits on the edge of her chair, with her elbows on her knees.

    How much of our lives is spent on repeat? The paper cuts and wounds get replayed, these daily pains being created and bolstered by our expectations and blindness, the gnawing thought that for us to go up, someone else has to go down.



    Some people do bring me inside, sharing their homes with me. It isn’t because they are superhumans, or because they are special, or somehow different from the rest – it is because they are open!


    It takes strength to be open, to be impressionable. It requires weakness to be closed, to be adamant and forthright.



    On the 18th floor:

    “Can I take your photograph?”

    “No, cause you can’t just take photos of people without their consent.”

    “But I would have your consent?”



    — or —


    On the 13th floor:

    “‘I don’t like taking pictures of me. Not today, but maybe come back later and maybe I’ll change my mind.”

    “You could change your mind now?”




    Thank you to the people who said “Yes”!


    Thank you to the people out there with big hearts!


    Thank you to those who don’t just walk by!


    Thank you to those who accept others!


    Though we may be cut off from one another in little boxes at night, or in social circles by day, or seemingly shuttered and splintered by our sunglasses, accents or outlook, those who love – those who accept and welcome others – are all around us.



    The three tower blocks stand at the base of Mornington Crescent. I actually remember them being clad in their beige plastic coats many years ago, sporting shiny security gates and intercoms. But their weathered patina and omnipresence now helps them morph, in the imagination at least, into the background, and they become any one of the many similar blocks scattered over the face of London.



    You don’t get a sense of the life on the inside, from the outside. Passing by on a bus, you might see a curtain flying half askance, sucked out of a window, or a light shaded, or an old plant on a balcony.


    But nothing like the throb of the lifts, the smells in the corridors, or a faded echos that fall down from the higher floors.


    You won’t see a flat’s welcome mat, or its bath time toys, or a living room wall lavished with optimistic wall paper.

    You certainly won’t see the artists, musicians, nurses, mothers, fathers, teachers, sisters and brothers.


    Nor the kids, the grandparents, the four-to-the-roomers, the dancers, musicians, videographers and dreamers.


    Those about to die, and those just recently born.


    You won’t see the pain and the hope, the humanity.



    Thank you to the people who let me in. Thank you to the people who took a leap of faith, who believed in a stranger. They made a conscious decision to step out of their confines, to put doubt to one side and, instead, to trust in something else.



    Is it only those who think a certain way, or look a certain way? Those who live according to your own values, or your own aspirations? Only those in finance or medicine or law? Only the familiar, and the comforting?


    Having a heart three sizes too small needn’t be permanent, we all have a choice.