Visit Britain: The weird and wonderful world of Britain’s ancient festivals

OK so I started with Visit Britain, but I will probably change the working title of this project to ‘Gatherings’, it sort of fits better now than Visit Britain for the project as the ideas are evolving.

I have been trawling across the internet looking for British Festivals, initially most of what I came across were music festivals. Which, whilst great, were not what I was looking for. However, after some more hit and miss searching, I came across the term ‘ancient festivals’. Suddenly, a lot of interesting and strange old festivals started to emerge. Turns out, they are also quite popular too!

It also turns out that there are a lot of these ancient ceremonies across the UK, some are internationally famous, like Up Helly Aa – the Lerwick fire festival – but there are a fair few that I have never heard of – like The Feast of St. Blaise in London, which is the patron saint of people afflicted with throat complaints! After a little digging around, it turns out that this ancient Catholic ceremony is also performed in other countries, like Croatia, as well.

The main problem that I am going to have is (1) selecting appropriate shoots from the incredible choice of ancient festivals out there and (2) quite a lot of events occur at night, which is going to be ‘interesting’ to shoot. However, my main interest is shooting night street photography, so I find this aspect quite exciting.

I think as a basic, I will try and cover the most important and famous events on the festival  calendar. Then, I might try and photograph some of the more unusual ceremonies to add a bit of novelty to the work.

These events are coming up all the time, some occur in January, which is too early for me at the moment – mainly due to the lack of large format camera! It’s going to take a little while to sort that piece of kit out.

What I am hoping is that these traditional festivals can be used to illustrate some of the diversity that occurs in Britain – whether it is diversity of events, places or people. What I would like to see is the relationship between these continuing ancient festivals and modern Britain.

I expect as the project unfolds other avenues that I could explore – or other understandings will open up. Hopefully, this will develop a deeper storyline to the project, but also make it potentially more interesting. Well, that’s the hope anyway!

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Salisbury, Arts Week, 2013. Canon 5D3, 85mm
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Visit Britain (working title) – Diversity in British culture

Following on from my last post, during this week I have been doing some research into how Britain is portrayed and exported across the world for tourism purposes. The two major themes that have emerged for me are culture and diversity.

The marketing world, by necessity, shows a very stereotypical view of Britain. It is also appears very narrow. What I would like to do is show more of the actual diversity of British culture. I like would like to create bodies of social documentary work that illustrates this idea.

I thought about the angle that I could take. Like a lot of people who do photography, I started with the idea of highlighting the differences between the rich and the poor. But, everyone has done poverty porn, and whilst it gets the point across – it’s a point that we have all heard a thousand times. So, I have decided to take a more simple view – to just show different sides of British life. It’s not a celebration or a commiseration about British life, but a more ‘straight’ viewpoint. It’s just my view of what I see (in a post modernist sense). I’m kind of happy with that. What I would like for you and other people is that you just look and think about the images – whether you like them or not is up to you – but the important thing is that you stop, look and think.

Gatherings. I have started to refine the potential focus of the ‘Visit Britain’ project over the last week. An idea that struck me shortly after writing the last post was that of gatherings of people. I was thinking about gatherings of convenience (such as people waiting at a bus stop) and gatherings of a more social nature, like raves (do they still do them?). Either way, the idea of people gathering together really interests me. I am admittedly, not a huge fan of crowds – they can be a bit claustrophobic for me. I really like the idea of photographing gatherings of people as its shows the collective nature of being human, but also their individuality.

I also really like the idea of taking ‘overview’ images of people gathered together to create a kind of ‘where’s Wally’ effect, where you can actually study a photograph for ages to see all the little things that go on in it. The idea of creating a photograph with lots of things going on in it, but with a common purpose really interests me. It’s also why I am increasingly thinking about getting a large format camera – to be able to record all that detail. Even a 50MP digital wouldn’t be able to record that much information (my Mamiya is equated with about 150MP, and even that would probably struggle with densely populated scenes!).

Festivals. Another theme that has emerged is how to document gatherings of people in a meaningful way. But, also a way that illustrates diversity. I grew up in Cornwall, which is well-known for its strange annual pagan festivals like Padstow May Day and more locally to me, Flora Day. I have visited these events on many occasions over the years. I like the idea of documenting these festivals; how they still have relevance today; what sort of people turn up to them, and what they get from it. This means that to shoot it, I would like the overview photographs showing the mass of people (it runs into thousands for each of these events), but also closer and more intimate portraits of people at the events. Rather than live action shots, I am thinking a bit more of portraits with short descriptors to highlight the individuality of people against the gathered mass. This is where my thinking is at the moment. Large format for the big overview photographs, and the Mamiya 7ii for the more individualised shots.

The next step for me is to find out what unusual festivals are running across the UK, when they run, how they run, and importantly how to shoot them. In reality, the project is going to take a couple of years to do, but that’s fine. In between, I will develop some other shorter projects exploring the theme of diversity in British culture.

Diverse Britain. Another idea that I have come up with this week, mainly one for the blog, is to find contemporary British social documentary photographers who are creating bodies of work that illustrates the diversity in British culture. When I find an interesting blog or website with some good work, I will post it up as a link. I am not a professional photographer, or a curator, or a photography journalist so it’s going to be fairly hit and miss how I do this – still that’s half the fun!

It seems relevant to me to build up a bigger picture of the different types of photographic work and contemporary British life that is going on around us. Personally, I find this stuff interesting. But also, if you have no photographs, then you may have no history…

Walking to the horses
Walking to the horses – Salisbury Magna Carta 800 year celebrations