40 years later, photographer tracks down friends and family for reunion photos!

Chris found an old Ford Cortina to shoot Paul Smith against and asked him to dress colourfully to bring the old mono photo to life. (Image credit: Chris Porsz)

Chris Porsz is a photographer based in Peterborough, England, who alongside his job working as a paramedic for 36 years, took to street photography in his spare time. 

In 2016 he found some old street shots and negatives that he'd taken in the late Seventies and early Eighties, and decided to set himself the challenge of tracking down the people in his images to recreate them and show how both the people and the city had changed over the last 40 years. 

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This resulted in his first book in 2016, Reunions – a collection of 134 photoshoots where Chris had been able to hunt down and reunite old friends and family. 

For his latest project and book, Reunions 2, he arranged 168 reunions of old friends at the same locations at which they were photographed all those years ago. 

He's now retired from being a paramedic after 36 years, giving him more time to do what he loves most: taking street portraits. We recently sat down with Chris to ask him about the trials and tribulations of his latest project…

Street photographer Chris Porsz reunited people that he shot in the '70s and early '80s for his unique and fun project (Image credit: Chris Porsz)

"In the late ’70s I had a Kodak Instamatic camera and I fell in love with street photography whilst hitchhiking around Europe. I’m self-taught and even set up my own darkroom. Safe to say there were a lot of hard lessons to be learnt along the way and many rolls of film destroyed. 

"I was more interested in people than the architecture of my street photos back then. I was also more shy and I’d tend to shoot with a long telephoto lens to take candid snaps without being spotted. I think both of these aspects have changed in my style over the years.

Brothers Mark and Matt (left to right) were photographed eating chips in a pram while their mum went into a shoe shop (Image credit: Chris Porsz)

"Between the late ’70s and early ’80s I loved to get out with my camera. I was drawn to the characters in my hometown, Peterborough. I’d go after teddy boys and punks, as I knew they weren’t camera shy. I was just trying to capture a snapshot of people going about their lives.

"It wasn’t until 2009 when I’d pick up a camera again. Everything was now digital and I realized that all of my issues with film cameras had been solved – you could now review pictures instantly and you didn’t have to wait weeks for your rolls of film to come back, only to realize the focus or exposure wasn’t quite right. I had an epiphany moment when I digitized my back catalogue of film slides and thought maybe I could reach out to some of these people to try and reunite them 30 or even 40 years on.

"This resulted in my first book in 2016, Reunions. Through putting the word out on social media and my regular column, 'Paramedic Paparazzo', in the local Evening Telegraph newspaper I was able to put together 134 reunions for my first book.

"I wanted to surpass myself for the new book and we ended up with 168 pairs in the end. It’s been a real labour of love, as I have on occasion driven 200 miles for a photo shoot only to get there and be told that it wasn’t them in the original photo, people have cancelled or weather conditions been disastrous, but I’m proud of the hard work that’s gone into it.

Friends Toni Cray (nee Pignatiello) and Teresa Weston (nee McPartlin) were photographed on the Sizzler ride at the Town Bridge Fair in Peterborough in 1985 (Image credit: Chris Porsz)

"I didn’t think I was going to do a second Reunions book, it just sort of happened. There had inevitably been some people who I’d reached out to for the first book who didn’t respond straight away, so I had some leftover. Digging through old archives revealed some hidden gems, too, and that was enough to convince me I had enough. It was also a bit easier now that I had a process and people were very good at responding to me on social media, or through my column when I did a shout out.

"I started the project in spring 2020 and finished it in November 2021, so it took about 18 months from start to finish. As you can imagine arranging shoots around the pandemic and various lockdowns was rather tricky, but I had to be determined and stay focused or it would never have happened.

Nurses Karen Belson, Maggie Moore, Anita Downs and Jane Kew (left to right) enjoy a tea break at the Peterborough District Hospital cafeteria in the early Eighties (Image credit: Chris Porsz)

"I've been in the NHS for 47 years, spending 36 of those as a paramedic, retiring in December 2020. I've felt a real sense of community spirit when I was a paramedic and I'd often recognize familiar faces. On one occasion I attended a patient short of breath and after treating him and giving him oxygen he said, 'You took my photo 30 years ago!' I think it’s safe to say that sometimes the reunions come to you. 

"One of the most challenging moments came from trying to reunite two girls on a fairground ride; due to COVID, there wouldn’t be any fairground rides to shoot on for over a year. Another tricky reunion was of a couple looking into a jewelry shop front window, but they have their backs to me so I couldn’t see their faces. I never thought I’d track them down but we managed to, and that ended up being the cover of the new book!"

Check out more images on his Instagram, or find out more about his work and pick up a copy of Reunions 2 over at his website.

Gloria Steele loved her job as a lollipop lady at Queen's Drive School in Dogsthorpe Road in Peterborough. She helped the children cross the road three times a day for seven years during the Eighties (Image credit: Chris Porsz)
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Dan Mold
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor on PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, Dan also brings his technical wizardry and editing skills to Digital Camera World. He has been writing about all aspects of photography for over 10 years, having previously served as technical writer and technical editor for Practical Photography magazine, as well as Photoshop editor on Digital Photo

Dan is an Adobe-certified Photoshop guru, making him officially a beast at post-processing – so he’s the perfect person to share tips and tricks both in-camera and in post. Able to shoot all genres, Dan provides news, techniques and tutorials on everything from portraits and landscapes to macro and wildlife, helping photographers get the most out of their cameras, lenses, filters, lighting, tripods, and, of course, editing software.