The small society: Is the idyll of the English village dead?

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Not according to photographer Eamonn J McCabe, who tells Gillian Orr how he escaped London to document the beauty of rural Sussex's Firle

The quintessential English village is often regarded as a lost settlement, a rural idyll from a bygone era where fathers play cricket at the weekend, the locals prop up the bar of the lone pub, grandmothers oversee a bake sale and children run down to the local shop to buy sweets. Does it really exist anymore?

It might be an idealised vision, but when the London-based photographer Eamonn J McCabe visited the village of Firle in the South Downs, he found it to be alive and well. Asked by a friend to take some photographs of life in Firle that they could sell to raise money to do up the village hall, McCabe made the journey and was surprised with what he discovered.

"When I started taking photographs I thought to myself, 'wow, this is so much more interesting than I thought it would be,' recalls McCabe. "I quickly began to see it as a really special place and I totally fell in love with it." Having lived in the capital since birth, village life was alien to McCabe. "I found the community down there to be really special, especially coming from London, where I don't even know my neighbours."

As McCabe became more enthralled with Firle, so the project grew, and he found himself returning every weekend to photograph the different landscapes and various residents. A fashion photographer by trade, here his subjects are a world away from the glossy, professional models he is used to shooting for Vogue and Elle.

The resulting book, About A Village, reveals a curious state of duality present in the village. In the photographs of street parties and schoolchildren playing there is a sense of nostalgia and innocence, while the more dramatic shots of imposing hills and huntsmen remind you of the history and tradition that a village is steeped in.

Those with no experience of country life will no doubt be left with a desire to visit such a charming community, while those who know all about village living will instantly recognise the delightful quirks. Firle may be unique, but in its sense of community, it remains familiar.

'About A Village' by Eamonn J McCabe is published by Frances Lincoln £16.99. To order a copy for the special price of £14.49 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600030, alternatively visit www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk

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