How to capture the essence of a country?
Throughout history, various writers and artists have sought to deliver a state-of-the-nation, with varying degrees of success.
But with the clear eye of the camera, perhaps photographers are best positioned to document society with genuine objectively.
That's been the aim of Niall McDiarmid, a commercial photographer with a "documentary photographer's heart" who has clocked up an astonishing 20,000 miles travelling the length of Britain since January 2011.
His project, 'Crossing Paths: A Portrait of Britain', is the result of taking photos of nearly 550 random people from major town and cities around the country.
"The initial idea was I would go for a few walks local to where I live in South London, see what interesting characters I could meet, see who I could cross paths with and ask to take their portrait," McDiarmid explains.
"By early summer 2011, the idea has expanded. Since then I have traveled more than 20,000 miles mostly by train, photographed nearly 550 people and walked many thousands of miles.
"The project is all self funded so to save money on accommodation I usually head off with a pack lunch and end up travelling back to London at the end of every day - so lots of hours on late night, off-peak trains."
While other photographers would seek to portray so-called 'everyday people', McDiarmid eschews kitchen sink realism and instead seeks out unconventional members of society.
"I am drawn to quirky charismatic characters, people that stick out from the crowd, people that add a little charm to the streets. I also like the challenge of blending the portraits with the background colours and patterns that we all pass everyday on the street.
"I use an old medium format film camera which doesn't work very well but it's a good talking point for people I meet and not as intimidating as a modern digital SLR camera."
Like any good adventure, the project has left McDiarmid with plenty of fond memories of the people he met along the way.
"When you start looking you begin to see that British streets are full of the most interesting characters," he says.
"I met a man called Brian Moore on a day trip to Newcastle who calls himself The Sunderland Spectre. He dresses in full Victorian outfit every day and truly has a ghostly appearance. Walking down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, I met the world's most pierced woman, Elaine Davidson from Brazil. She has 7000 piercing and is now married to an Edinburgh man, who incidently has no piercings at all. In Rhyl, I met a very friendly man who dresses ever day as a cowboy - living the Wild West dream in North Wales."
And in the future?
"I hope to run the project through till next summer when I aim to exhibit the images in different places across the UK," he says.
"Further than that I haven't any plans - but I would certainly be up for the challenge of a long walk through Europe or the US and seeing who I could meet!"
White Lion Walk, Guildford - April 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0119 - Crossing Paths
Hertford Street, Coventry - March 2012, Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0091 - Crossing Paths
Sayers Street, Wrexham - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
Monmouth Street, London - Feb 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
South Bank, London - Feb 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0053 - Crossing Paths
Northgate Street, Chester - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0004 - Crossing Paths
High Street, Oxford - April 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0129 - Crossing Paths
Digbeth Square, Walsall - May 2012, Photography by Niall McDiarmid
Clinton Street West, Nottingham - Oct 2011, Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0034 - Crossing Paths
Argyle Street, Glasgow - Oct 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0011 - Crossing Paths
Bodfor Street, Rhyl - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0025 - Crossing Paths
St. Werburgh Street, Chester - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
Union Quay, North Shields - April 2012. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0002 - Crossing Paths
Queens Road, Hastings - May 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0083 - Crossing Paths
Chapel Street, Woking - March 2012. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0122 - Crossing Paths
China Lane, Manchester - Oct 2012. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0005 - Crossing Paths
Tavern Street, Ipswich - Sept 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0036 - Crossing Paths
St. Andrew's Street, Cambridge - May 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0031 - Crossing Paths
Princess Street, Wolverhampton - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0009 - Crossing Paths
Commercial Road, Bournemouth - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0016 - Crossing Paths
High Ousegate, York - July 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0127 - Crossing Paths
New Cross Street, Hull - Sept 2012, Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0128 - Crossing Paths
Register Place, Edinburgh - Oct 2012, Photography by Niall McDiarmid
Commercial Road, Portsmouth - April 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0056 - Crossing Paths
Hayes Island, Cardiff - July 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0097 - Crossing Paths
Manchester Street, Luton - March 2012. Photography by Niall McDiarmid
0130 - Crossing Paths
Cockburn Street, Edinburgh - Oct 2012. Niall McDiarmid