Panoramic Preston: What happens when a city is photographed, community by community?

Charlie Cooper reports on a unique panoramic project.

Charlie Cooper
Saturday 02 February 2013 01:00

In the early 18th century, a historian passing through Preston remarked on "a very pretty town with abundance of gentry in it, commonly called Proud Preston".

You can watch a preview of Chlebik's shoot here

Today, things might have changed a little, but Preston and its people are still taking pride in their city. Every 20 years, Preston celebrates an ancient event: Henry II granting Guild Merchant status to the town's leaders.

For the latest Preston Guild year, 2012, photographer Jan Chlebik set out to capture the city's contemporary guilds: the diverse communities – professional, cultural and historical – that now represent its 132,000 inhabitants.

The final project, the Preston People Panorama, is a snapshot of what a modern British community looks like. Across more than 100 photographs, all facets of city life are represented. There are the relics of centuries-old traditions still lingering in the red gowns, golden chains and funny hats of the Lord Mayor and his attendants, juxtaposed against the modern workaday reality of the city's Clean Environment Team, with their fluorescent jackets and lumbering street-sweeper trucks.

There are schoolchildren in Scout uniforms on a grey Remembrance Sunday, Morris dancers dressed up as crows, and second- and first-generation immigrants in traditional Polish dress.

"One thing that was fascinating, was that the ordinary began to seem extraordinary," says Chlebik of taking these images. "These are normal people doing really quite normal things and they just look amazing."

Chlebik, who was born in Blackburn, the son of Polish émigré parents who fled the Second World War, is a master of the dying art of the panoramic photograph. Commissioned by Manchester-based creative agency Dovetail and supported by Arts Council funding, his photographs are a simple celebration of a thing too often taken for granted: functioning community.

"Panorama groups are quite democratic," he says. "Even if you're in the middle of the shot, everyone's got equal status across the whole picture, whether you're the boss or the worker, a small child or the parent. It's quite a leveller."

Preston People Panorama is at the Museum of Lancashire in Preston, from Thursday to 19 May

You can watch a preview of Chlebik's shoot here

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments