Unseen UK opens with hastily snapped photographs of an alarm clock reading 4am, bleary-eyed postmen sorting mail, a fry up and a sleepy looking family gathered in a double bed. The viewer is launched, with an early morning jolt, into life as a British postie. The 240 photographs that make up Unseen UK are the final edit of 20,000 photographs submitted to photographer Stephen Gill for an experimental project, undertaken by the workforce of the Royal Mail, in aid of the charity Help the Hospices. Employees were given disposable cameras with which they had free reign to take pictures of their daily experiences.
With no specific brief to work from, the photographs are varied and at times random in content. An image of neighbours gathering to watch firemen attending to a house fire is followed by a blurry, action shot taken through the handlebars of a post bike. Among the unique and eccentric sights that posties encounter on their daily rounds, such as a miniature village set up within a front garden, certain subjects like scary dogs, staircases, front doors, landscapes, fellow workers and mail recipients appear regularly. The majority of the images obviously lack photographic expertise, several are out of focus, too dark and flash-exposed, but it is the instantaneous and impulsive feel to the photographs that make the collection attractive.
Gill has been wise to keep his edit diverse in location, allowing observers to feel like they are scanning all corners of Britain as they flick through the book. From typically suburban areas to the rural isolation of Inverie, in the Scottish Highlands, where postman Tommy McManmon, complete with Wellington boots and a postbag slung over his shoulder, climbs up a pebble shore away from an engulfing loch. He and his van are taken to Knoydart by landing craft, a village on the UK mainland unconnected to the road network.
In a light-hearted and entertaining way and with the ubiquitous British postie as an excellent guide, Gill allows us to glimpse a different perspective of the sights, scenes, places and people that form the fabric of daily life throughout the UK.