Nostalgic photos exploring English identity on the margins

Nostalgic photos exploring English identity on the margins

In his newest photobook 'A Country Kind of Silence', photographer Ian Howorth contends with a nation of contradictions.

Having spent a large part of his childhood in bustling Lima, Peru’s capital and largest city with an estimated population of 11.2 million, Ian Howorth sees the pace of life in England differently to most. “I’ve lived in cities all my life – Lima’s hectic, smelly and smoggy, and then I lived in Miami,” he says with a wry smile, calling in from Brighton where he now lives. “I don’t class any cities in England as a city unless it’s like London or Manchester – everything else is a town to me.”

With his father being born in Yorkshire, he would regularly visit his relatives in the northern county throughout his childhood, before eventually settling there at the age of 16. It meant that fitting in at school was mostly a smooth process, despite having been raised over 6,000 miles away.

“A lot of my friends were incredibly surprised by how integrated I am considering I’m not English – I knew Stig of the Dump, I’ve known Faulty Towers for years” he explains. “So it’s even though I was on the back foot culturally, it’s almost like I made a real big effort to try and fit in. But there’s also a real genuine love for the UK.”

His newest photobook, A Country Kind of Silence, is an exploration of life, identity and culture in English society – shaped by Howorth’s own migrant perspective. Filled with quintessentially British regalia, such as a telephone box on the side of a country lane, an inflatable paddling pool, or static caravans – the pictures tug on a nostalgic familiarity for those who have grown up around certain parts of the British Isles, and in specific times.

“I’ve been told that I’ve got a better understanding of the UK landscape than most English people,” Howorth says. “It’s probably because I’ve seen so much of it over the last seven or eight years – whilst my pals were going on a kayak down the River Ouse on a perfect summer’s day, I’m in the arse end of Margate photographing a phone box. I think it’s maybe being up North in the 80s and 90s when I was younger and seeing all these weird things, and it’s like a map was being built in my head of how I associate England."

Many of the featured objects reference decades past, with the photographs projecting a sense of timelessness that belies the fact that they were mostly taken over the past three years. With few shots featuring people, coupled with Howorth’s innate sense of space and emptiness, they are somewhat haunting, appearing to capture an Englishness that never quite existed in the way that it’s been remembered. In Howorth’s mind, that ever-morphing sense of national identity is key to understanding the country in the first place.

“[After] Brexit happened, the ideas of sovereignty, and ‘what’s our place?’ [became prominent] – I realised that the questions I was asking were less to do with me and more to do with England as a whole and its changing sense of identity.” he says. “Like what is it to be English? You’re going to fish and chip shops that sells you Chinese food – you get curry sauce on your chips.

“So there’s this sense that we have about what Britishness is, and it’s constantly changing, constantly evolving as time goes on,” he continues. “As migrants for example, or people that have settled here become second generation, they become British themselves, so they change that cultural landscape all the time.”

A Country Kind of Silence by Ian Howorth is published by Setanta.

Follow Isaac on Twitter.

Enjoyed this article? Follow Huck on Twitter and Instagram.