The man behind the lens into Frestonia
The fascinating legacy of Frestonia - its residents, stories, cultural impact, global reach - is something we will always celebrate and remember here at Notting Dale. We are lucky enough to have a wealth of first-hand stories, photographs and documentation from many previous residents, visitors and devoted fans who continue to passionately reminisce about it even today.
One of the very first residents was Tony Sleep - born in Bushey in 1950 and a keen photographer, he set up home in Frestonia at the age of 24 and began capturing life in the independent state. His fly-on-the-wall style photography captured the intimate moments of life during the Frestonia’s formative years; from the mundane, to the theatrical. This authentic documentation of the Frestonian residents gives us an invaluable insight into how the varied mix of characters came together to form a strong community, becoming greater than the sum of their parts. It creates an authentic and truly human representation, going beyond what was written in the press at the time.
“Communities are defined, more or less, by what people have in common … That’s usually class, background or aspiration, sometimes race or religion. What people have in common helps them feel safe and valued. What is different can be threatening or divisive.
Families, on the other hand, are a matter of being stuck with people you sometimes struggle to tolerate, let alone like. Frestonia was a bit of both.”
Following his stay at Frestonia, Sleep went on to study photography at the London College of Printing and carved a successful career in editorial photography for many magazines, charities and PR and is the Director of EPUK (Editorial Photographers UK).
In 2018, on the 40th anniversary of the founding of The Free Independent Republic of Frestonia, a curated collection of Sleep’s photography was showcased in the Frestonian Gallery in a special exhibition and launch of his accompanying book ‘Welcome to Frestonia’. A full-circle moment, the gallery sits within the The People’s Hall, once the cultural hub for Frestonians’ creative residents now given a new lease of life as an exhibition space and studios for innovative creators.
In an extract from his book, Sleep summarises the legacy Frestonia has had some 50 years later:
“Frestonia was another place and another time, but one that should not be forgotten. It showed how people who had nothing to lose still had something to offer. Most people who lived there and survived still feel a sense of gratitude for the experience.”
Image credits: Tony Sleep & Frestonian Gallery ©