Summer Fête in Somerset, 1991

Summer Fête in Somerset, 1991

My Christmas present to myself was a negative scanner that enables me to edit on my computer hundreds of negatives from the past 25-30 years that I never had a chance to print in a darkroom. The scanning is a time-consuming process but hugely exciting – and of course not nearly as laborious as darkroom work.

So far I have found 30-odd new photos of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and photographs of a summer fête in Somerset in 1991, taken within my first six months of living in the UK.

Looking at these photographs of a rural village celebration in the West Country made me remember how new and uncertain it all felt at the time, life in my adopted country, and how I was seeing (and photographing) it through a foreigner’s eyes. Nearly 30 years on, these types of scenes are now wonderfully familiar to me and I view them with huge affection. It would be interesting to head back to Exmoor to photograph the event again and see what has changed, both over the time period and my perception of it. I’ll keep you posted on that. You can find more photos of the village fête here.

The littlest bonfire boy

The littlest bonfire boy

Every year I head out to photograph the Lewes Bonfire celebrations, trying to capture a sense of the joy and anarchy of the night. It is one of the most challenging subjects to capture, but also one of the most fun for me.

Because there is no time to practice how I will deal with the extremes of the situation (pitch black to flares of light in split seconds), all I can do is hit the ground running, tweaking my technique as I go along.

This year new equipment made a huge difference to how I approached the evening. A newly acquired very fast lens meant that I could photograph the event without needing a flash. So much of the drama of the evening is the light cast by all those flaming torches, so being able to catch this without the glare of a flash was a game changer.

Now to this little chap. There is something about this photo that I find mesmerising – the flaming torch looking more like a giant matchstick almost too heavy to hold, that little round face in the wooly hat, the fact that he is so much smaller than the circle of people around him but a mini version of them… As I was saying in my blog two weeks ago, Lewes Bonfire night is very much about families celebrating and marching together. You can find many more of my Bonfire photos here.

On a completely different note, I had the good fortune to be mentioned in two blog posts in one day! The first was on the Brighton Dome website about my project documenting the refurbishment of the Corn Exchange. The second was in the newsletter of Simon Scott Landscaping, an excellent local landscaping firm, about a series of portraits I took over the summer, including a photo of one of their partners.

It’s that bonfire time of year again

It’s that bonfire time of year again

It’s that time of year when the streets of Lewes are wild with flaming torches, exploding fireworks and costumed people marching through town.

This year, I wanted to show you another side to the event that many spectators don’t see, because the 5th of November is as much about family and intergenerational communities as it is about the rowdy spectacle.

I particularly like this shot. It was taken at the end of the evening, the flames of the bonfire lighting this pair of father and daughter smugglers. The striped jumpers, bandanas and blackened faces are a throwback to the days when Bonfire Boys and Girls disguised themselves as smugglers to avoid being recognised. Nowadays it is a sign of belonging, because each bonfire society uses a different colour combination for the stripes of their jumpers. You can find more of my photos of celebrations here, and lots of Lewes Bonfire ones here.

Blessing the boat

Blessing the boat

You may remember that the Lewes Pilot Gig Club featured in my photo of the week a couple of months ago. At the time, the club was using a rented boat while saving money to buy their own. Enough money finally accrued and the boat was duly delivered to a group of very happy rowers. A ceremony was organised to bless the new vessel on the auspicious day of Good Friday, Moon Beltane and the full moon. Priestess Melissa Corkhill performed the ceremony with specially collected water that each club member used to anoint the gig while casting their wishes for the future of it and the club.

The event began with the Skull Drummery Bonfire drummers, followed by the blowing of a conch shell and finished up with the rousing singing of sea shanties. As one of the club members (who doesn’t live in Lewes) said to me, you just can’t get more Lewes than that. More photos of the boat naming ceremony and other celebrations can be found here. More photos of gig rowing can be found here.

Please get in touch if you have an event, a celebration – or even a boat blessing – that you would like to have photographed.

It was a banger of a night

It was a banger of a night

So, the Lewes Bonfire celebrations have come and gone for another year. It was a warm, dry night and the town was buzzing with spectators lining the High Street, lots of fire everywhere and costumed, torch-bearing people marching through the centre. As a photographer, it is a rewarding, but very challenging, subject matter, what with the extremes of light and dark, the continuous movement of the procession and the jostle of the crowds. Then there are the bangers. They are loud, they are very bright, and they hurt if they hit you. (I admit to being a bit scared of them).

Which leads me to my photo of the week of a string of Chinese firecrackers being let off. I am pleased and just a little surprised by it. First of all, the change in light is obviously very sudden when something is exploding, making it difficult to meter for, but also I know I was probably hiding behind other bystanders when I took it. In addition, I am amazed that my camera was able to record something so extreme. What I like most about it, though, is that it captures a moment in time that the eyes cannot see in real life, which is one of the joys of photography. You can find more of my Lewes Bonfire photographs here.

Lewes Bonfire is on its way

It’s Bonfire time of year again

Lewes Bonfire celebrations are just around the corner. The largest Guy Fawkes event in the country is an extremely loud, colourful and slightly anarchic spectacle that takes over the town for one night a year. As a photographer, I find it hard to resist the pull and the challenge of trying to capture the drama with my camera.

I am particularly fond of this shot from last year. I like the sense of intimacy of it. We share the experience of the smuggler who holds up a bandana in protection against the all-pervading smoke, silhouetted by the flare of the exploding bangers. The flames in the barrel are echoed by the burning torches being carried into the distance.

The term smuggler refers to the people who wear the stripy jumpers. Sussex has 28 bonfire societies, seven of them in Lewes, and each one has its own colour combination. You can find more of my Lewes Bonfire photographs here.

If you are in Lewes on Saturday the 10th November, please join me at the Paddock Arts Studios (3 pm at Paddock Lane, BN7 1TW). I will be speaking about my project documenting the transition of the old industrial Harvey’s Depot into a state-of-the-art cinema.

If you have a building project, workplace or event that you are thinking of photographing, please get in touch. I deliver photographs that delve deeper than showing just the surface of things.

AWARD-WINNING: I am very pleased to announce that my photograph of the Stephen Lawrence Trust Centre came second place in its category at the Event Photography Awards 2019. You can read more about it here.


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