John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Street photographer Dougie Wallace embedded himself in the lewd, bloody bashes of England's worst bachelor-party destination.
Walk into a pub in Blackpool, England, and you risk having your shoes vomited upon or being whacked in the face by an inflatable pink phallus. That's because the seaside town is ground zero for the country's "stag and hen" bashes, pre-wedding blowouts that swirl booze, buffoonery, and public lewdness into shrieking tornadoes of pure party destruction.
During peak matrimonial season, Blackpool is crisscrossed by hooting hordes acting out America's version of bachelor and bachelorette parties. The U.K. phenomenon has become so rampant it's already contaminated much of Europe: Since 2001, British stags have made the news for peeing on a beloved monument in Latvia, killing a man by pushing him into a river in Ireland, and washing ashore deceased weeks after going missing in Brussels. But Blackpool will always have a legendary place in the history of these notorious jubilees: Local hotels that might've once been restrained now cater to stag and hen parties with special packages and invitations to get an embarrassing picture on the "Wall of Shame." Past government efforts to tone down these festivities have failed, despite the authorities trying out "tough powers normally applied to drug dens and brothels."
Those who want to celebrate impending marital bliss in Blackpool without the resulting hangover should pick up Stags, Hens & Bunnies, a new book from street photographer Dougie Wallace. The 36-year-old London resident spent nearly three years documenting Blackpool's surreal mayhem, blending in with bleary-eyed revelers to capture a true insider's view. The result is a wonderfully edifying primer on cultural rites both grotesque and campily triumphant—a dirty artistic gem that "doesn't patronise but sees humanity and pathos in the carnage that is Blackpool," says Trainspotting's Irvine Welsh.
Wallace says he was always fascinated by the town's gravitational pull for drunken jackassery. The "aha" moment for him, in terms of the book's genesis, was seeing a man whose mates had bound him naked in public with rolls of cellophane. Writes the photographer:
He was pissing himself laughing, bollock-naked and cling-filmed to a lamppost on the promenade. It was broad daylight. People were snapping him with their phones and he couldn’t do anything about it. I ran across the road. It was one of those daft moments: some guy on his stag weekend, wrapped up in see-through plastic, his boots and jeans at his ankles, whilst the Welsh flag hung limply from the pole above his head. I could see he had just started to break out of his cling-film manacles when his friends came back with a fresh roll to reinforce his plastic confinement. "He should know better," his pal said, "He’s been married three times before." When I passed by later, as the light was dying, he was still there. He had stopped laughing.
While that specific photo is a bit too graphic to display on this website, these others that Wallace shared give a good glimpse of the inextinguishable party hell that is Blackpool. And should you ever decide to get hitched there, remember this side note from the photographer himself: "For those with a bigger budget, dwarves can be hired out and handcuffed to the groom for a fee."
Images copyright Dougie Wallace from Stags, Hens & Bunnies/Dewi Lewis Publishing