In reference to London’s National Portrait gallery exhibition Vogue 100 – A Century of Style we take the opportunity to talk to talented photographer Henry Bourne about his contribution to British culture. Henry first caught my attention through images of his publication Arcadia Britannica published by Thames & Hudson last year. There is an amazing connection to rituals and masquerade through the rest of his personal work and also contribution to the fashion industry worth having a look.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background.
I grew up and I’m based in London but I spend a lot of time in the Sussex countryside.
My work has appeared in numerous exhibitions worldwide, including; ‘Folklore & Photography’, at the Towner Gallery for Contemporary Art 2012. ‘Modern British Folklore Portraits’ at the Central State Exhibition hall in St Petersburg. ‘Now & Then’ an exhibition of contemporary art and historical objects at Harris Lindsay London 2011 curated by Adrian Dannatt.
My work is currently being exhibited as part of ‘Vogue 100: A Century of Style’ from 11th February – 22nd May 2016 at The National Portrait Gallery London.
My work forms part of the National Portrait Gallery’s (London) permanent collection of portrait photography.
My first monograph book ‘Arcadia Britannica, a Modern British Folklore Portrait’ was published in 2015 by Thames & Hudson.
I am a regular contributor to Vogue & Harper’s Bazaar magazines worldwide & T: The New York Times Style Magazine. My editorial work has also appeared in, amongst others, The Conde Nast Traveller, Numero, W, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Wallpaper, The World of Interiors & Vanity Fair magazines.
My portrait commissions include: Gillian Anderson, Tom Dixon, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tracey Emin, Zaha Hadid, the Mayor of London; Boris Johnson, Ralph Lauren, Carey Mulligan, Elizabeth McGovern, Steve McQueen, Grayson Perry, Richard Prince, Emeli Sande, Paula Rego and, Vanessa Redgrave. I have worked with advertising clients including: Hermès, Lancôme, Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith & UBS.
How did the idea of the book Arcadia Britannica began? Is it an ongoing project? How did you collaborate with Simon Costin?
Arcadia Britannica is an ongoing photographic portrait project, of some the individuals involved in the myriad of different British folklore traditions and customs, around the United Kingdom.
Starting in 2009, I traveled around the UK to various seasonal rites and folklore festivals to photograph the diverse mix of people who participate in these rituals. These unique traditions & customs are flourishing and evolving, and I wanted to document these particularly British individuals exactly as they are without further embellishment.
I decided that the best way to record this was to concentrate on the individuals rather than the perimeter events, working within a portable studio at each event, to link each event and the photographs together.
My starting point was the Victorian Member of Parliament and amateur photographer Sir Benjamin Stone’s series of photographs within ‘Records of National Life and History Volume I: Festivals, Ceremonies and Customs’ and the collection of his photographs at the V&A Museum.
The initial idea of a new 21st century British folklore portrait came from a discussion with my friend Simon Costin, designer and the director of the Museum of British Folklore, who is campaigning to raise funds and awareness for the UK’s first museum to exclusively cover British Folklore. In 2009, Simon Costin took a miniature Museum of British Folklore around the UK in an elaborately styled 1960’s caravan as part of the Museums journey towards a permanent home. Initially I accompanied him along with my portable studio and then went on both alone and with Simon to other events around the UK. He has been an integral part of the photographic project, suggesting events and sharing his contacts, enthusiasm and passion for British folklore. The project has been in collaboration with Simon, whose help and knowledge has been invaluable.
‘The Endless Cavalcade’(by Alexander Howard published in 1964) lists a British rite or ritual for every day of the year, there are now approximately 720 recorded events, rites and ever changing customs practiced in the UK each year.
By no means are the photographs in Arcadia Britannica intended to be a comprehensive document of British Folklore today, but merely a snapshot of a small number of the individuals involved today and the photography for the project continues.
Who are the people behind the images?
The people behind the images come from all walks of life including; nurses, builders, a Japanese translator, civil servants, business people, and the graphic designer of Hibernian football club, amongst others. A complete cross section of backgrounds and occupations appear within British Folklore. Wherever possible we captioned the subject’s professions within Arcadia Britannica.
What is about British folklore culture that fascinates you?
Today we find ourselves in the midst of a British folklore renaissance, a new surge of interest in all things folkloric, within music, art and fashion. There is a growing popular desire to reconnect with our heritage, nature and our environment, perhaps as a reaction against our on-line, yet impersonal technological age. British Folklore traditions and rituals have had a rather tame reputation to date, which is unfounded. There is a fascinating world of bizarre tales and characters, brimming with idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, together with a renewed modern 21st century populism and enthusiasm, coupled with British history and myth. Folklore is a living, evolving culture that doesn’t stand still; it adapts and references contemporary culture.
Would you consider expanding your project in other countries?
Yes absolutely, many of these British rituals have similarities to those in Germany, France, Scandinavia, and many other countries and although mostly, the origins are unclear these events must have important links to one another. But for now I am concentrating on the UK as there is still so much still to cover here.
Do you think rituals are still important within the modern society or is it part of our heritage that is slowly fading away?
Yes, ritual is still important and I think we find it reassuring. It enables us to both re-connect with the past and connect with the present.
Do you think this is something that can evolve and take new forms in order to adjust with today’s needs?
By its nature Folklore’s origins are usually unclear and ever changing, adapting to contemporary society. Its current popularity could be a reaction to our consumerist age; it celebrates renewal, nature, and green environmental issues, all of which are thoroughly modern concerns.
The Jack in the Green festival in Hastings is a good example of the evolution of a folklore event; first recorded around 300 years ago as a May Day celebration of the start of summer in Hastings, its roots are probably from the Romans and Celts celebrations of the beginning of summer. The Jack in the Green parade had all but disappeared by the start of the 20th Century. It was resurrected in 1983 and today is an ever-popular annual event with some new traditions as well as the old. Along with the traditional costumes (people dressed as milkmaids and chimney sweeps) there are new contemporary participants, often dressed in extravagant ‘tatter’ clothing decorated with foliage and flowers, and their faces painted green.
Even the Bonfire society’s Sussex bonfire celebrations have evolved. Guy Fawkes Night, that commemorates the events of the 5 November 1605, when Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested whilst guarding explosives that his fellow plotters had placed beneath the Houses of Parliament in London.
In celebration of King James’ survival of this attempt on his life, bonfires were lit around London. In 1850 in Lewes, the inclusion of the burning of a papal effigy began on Guy Fawkes Night, in protest at Pope Pius IX’s decision to try to restore the Catholic Church in England. In Lewis and Hastings today, it has become a fun night out, Papal effigies have been replaced by effigies of currently unpopular figures, usually politicians, along with the traditional Guy Fawkes.
The annual Notting Hill London carnival is an example of a modern Folkloric event that is relevant to both the local and, more recently, a widespread London community that celebrates Caribbean London culture.
What is it about masquerade that captures your attention? I can see this is something that dominates your photographs both in your personal work but also in projects for clients such as Hermes.
Escaping from the ‘everyday’, disguise, dressing up, the taking on of another identity, fantasy, and hiding!
Are you working on a new project at the moment?
I have several projects on the go, one of which involves tracing and photographing my long lost family of Native American distant relatives that live in Canada, and the surrounding landscape and towns nearby.
Melissanthi Spei is an Athenian born fashion artist based in London. Her heritage in combination with her creativity inspires her to create contemporary and sculptural garments. Part of her identity as a designer is to use industrial materials for something historical and old through the exploration of traditional arts and crafts and their projection to contemporary aesthetics. Melissanthi has taken an interest in exploring different parts of folklore culture around the world and ways to revive them within the fashion context.