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.

argyle street glasgow Taken on Argyle Street, Glasgow


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.

south bank london South Bank, London


"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!"

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    White Lion Walk, Guildford - April 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Hertford Street, Coventry - March 2012, Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Sayers Street, Wrexham - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Monmouth Street, London - Feb 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    South Bank, London - Feb 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Northgate Street, Chester - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    High Street, Oxford - April 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Digbeth Square, Walsall - May 2012, Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Clinton Street West, Nottingham - Oct 2011, Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Argyle Street, Glasgow - Oct 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Bodfor Street, Rhyl - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    St. Werburgh Street, Chester - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Union Quay, North Shields - April 2012. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Queens Road, Hastings - May 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Chapel Street, Woking - March 2012. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    China Lane, Manchester - Oct 2012. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Tavern Street, Ipswich - Sept 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    St. Andrew's Street, Cambridge - May 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Princess Street, Wolverhampton - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Commercial Road, Bournemouth - June 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    High Ousegate, York - July 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    New Cross Street, Hull - Sept 2012, Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Register Place, Edinburgh - Oct 2012, Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Commercial Road, Portsmouth - April 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Hayes Island, Cardiff - July 2011. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Manchester Street, Luton - March 2012. Photography by Niall McDiarmid

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    Cockburn Street, Edinburgh - Oct 2012. Niall McDiarmid