Founded over 175 years ago, Henley Regatta remains one of the mainstays of the traditional English summer society events, alongside the Chelsea Flower Show, Glyndebourne, Royal Ascot and Wimbledon.
I first experienced this unique mix of sporting competition and social occasion, in the early nineties, at the outset of my photographic career, and immediately fell under the visual charm of its potential for “people-watching”. I felt like I was following in the line of photographers like Tony Ray-Jones and David Hurn who have chronicled British eccentricity, in its various guises, with a gentle degree of wit. I think it was something to do with the dress code and particularly the hats that made this subject so photographically appealing, providing a certain structure and formality to the pictures.
Although the racing is a serious activity and draws high-class rowers, including Olympians, from across the globe, my preoccupation is with the spectators, especially those that turn up ” to be seen “. In this genteel and picturesque setting, on the banks of the river Thames, the wars and worries of everyday existence, belong to far-away worlds, as the middle and upper classes indulge in the time-honoured pleasures of dressing-up, eating and getting merry.
I returned last summer for the first time and found myself again transported to an event where time seemed to have stopped, the ritual and ceremony of the occasion preserving this outward appearance of a settled English way of life that is meant to go on for ever and ever!
Here are firstly my selection of my images, shot on film over 20 years ago, and further below my photographs taken last summer.
These below are the images I took on Saturday 4th July 2015, and although I shot on digital this time I deliberately photographed in black and white mode, to show how in many ways little of the overall atmosphere had really changed in the intervening twenty years.