Day 6

Photographer Chris Porsz is tracking down strangers to recreate the photos he took of them 40 years ago

In the late seventies and early eighties, Chris Porsz took a bunch of street photographs in his home of Peterborough, England: a couple kissing at the train station, a young woman celebrating her 21st birthday, two school-aged boys eating french fries. Then he put the camera down for nearly 40 years. Now, he has tracked down the people in 143 of those photos and recreated the shots.
Chris Porsz took one photo of Trudie and Dave Talbot as they sat on a park bench drinking Vimto in 1980. It turns out the picture was taken on Trudie's 21st birthday, and only six months after the couple had married. (Chris Porsz)
Listen9:26

When Chris Porsz started working on his latest photography book, he knew it was something special. He just wasn't sure anyone else would feel the same way.

But Porsz's pictures have now become so popular that they're making the rounds on social media, and his book "Reunions" is selling so quickly he's struggling to keep up with demand.

Porsz is a paramedic in Peterborough, England. In the late seventies, around the time his first child was born, he bought himself a decent camera. As a hobby, he walked the streets of his hometown capturing faces and moments in time.

But then his job changed and he had more children, and life became a little too busy for his photography hobby. So Porsz put his camera aside — for 25 years.

In 2009, Porsz found his old photos and sent a few to the local paper. The response was so great that they gave Porsz a weekly column entitled 'Paramedic Paparazzo.'

Porsz uses the column to publish his old photos and to try to reconnect with the original subjects. He thought it might be fun to try to recreate the original photos with the original subjects.

But as he tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury, his first reunion didn't come from his newspaper column, but happened completely by chance.

"I remember sitting on a bench… and I saw this couple drinking Vimto. So I took one picture and walked away. And 35 years later, I actually put this picture in a calendar called "Peterborough Through a Lens." And I was showing this calendar to a group of nurses at the local hospital where I work as a paramedic. I was turning the pages, got to June, and one of the nurses yelled out: 'that's me!'," explains Porsz.

The nurse was Trudie Talbot, and Porsz later learned that he took the original picture on her 21st birthday, six months after she married her husband Dave. The couple have now been married for 36 years.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, Chris Porsz took a bunch of street photographs in his home of Peterborough, England. Then, he put the camera down for nearly 40 years. Now, he has tracked down the people in 143 of those photos and recreated the shots. 9:26

         

The boys in the derelict house

Porsz describes another "one in a million" reunion that occurred because of his job.

His original photo was taken in 1982 at an abandoned house with broken windows. The boys in the neighbourhood arranged themselves in the windows of the house.

In the photo on the right, Ricky Clarke is at the top right. He's the 12-year-old with the cigarette in his mouth in the middle of the picture on the left. In the recreated photo, Ricky is joined by his friend Phillip Boardman (sitting) and cousin Stuart Beach. The boy standing in the doorway of the 1982 photo, Christopher Jackson, has since died. (Chris Porsz)

"The 12-year-old with the cigarette in his mouth, 36 years later, would dial 999 for an ambulance. Just by chance I happened to be on duty," says Porsz. "After it was all over, after he felt better, he pointed a finger and said 'you took my picture 30-odd years ago.' And I thought, wow! I thought I'd won the lottery."

Porsz describes the incident as an amazing coincidence, and it led to three of the boys reuniting for a photo recreation in the same neighbourhood.

The power of the pictures

Porsz says he's amazed at the success of his book and photos. He thinks part of the draw may simply be nostalgia. But Porsz also says it's a nice story in a period of bad news.

"There's a lot of sadness in the world, and it's just nice to have this heartwarming story for a change. People need a positive view of how we can all get on together."

He notes that his photos reflect the true multicultural makeup of Peterborough. For Porsz, that diversity is important to capture.

First captured on film in 1979, school friends Sandra Williams, Carmen Chin and Maureen Mayers reunited for another photo in Peterborough. The women hadn't seen each other in years. (Chris Porsz)

"My mother's a Holocaust survivor, she's 95 now. My father was a Polish paratrooper, and they made this most incredible contribution to Peterborough," explains Porsz. "I hate racism because I know what it leads to."

Porsz goes on to describe one his favourite photos, which isn't in the book. It shows a young Asian man smiling while standing on his front porch, speaking with his elderly white neighbour.

"They're laughing and joking over the garden fence, and that sums it all up for me."

Two neighbours share a laugh over the garden fence in Peterborough, England. (Chris Porsz)