Monday, 18 June 2012

Freelance Photographer Kitty Buchanan-Gregory blogs on a Quintessentially British Season... And the highs and lows of documenting it...

The Telegraph recently ran a list of the 'Top 10 Dream Jobs'; number one was a fighter pilot, two a charity worker, three a writer, and pleasingly coming in at number four was a photographer. Considering I've recently started my own photography business it was an assurance that, whist I am yet to make my millions, I have a really cool job. However people assume I work in warm studios, snappy glamorous models and drink champagne. As someone who recently spent 9 cold and wet hours on The Mall standing next to a Canadian with a stuffed beaver on his head (because how else would one celebrate both The Queen's Jubilee and one's country's national animal?), the reality is that whilst all about me are drunk and celebrating, I am often sober and in desperate need of a pee but can't leave in case that photographer from The Mail nicks my spot. 

I focus on 'Quintessential' British events such as The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, Chelsea Flower Show, Polo, Henley Regatta etc. They're beautiful events with beautiful people watching gracefully from the sidelines. It's the elegant English Season which seems to be stuck in the halcyon lazy summer days from the 1980's; evoking the magical air of Brideshead. Or at least that's what I'm trying to capture for my new coffee table book - a photographic representation of rowers with rippling bodies and handsome polo players doing impressive things on horseback. However it's bloody difficult to try and evoke a hazy summer day when it's tipping it down and everyone is wearing a plastic poncho. Not even Photoshop can save us, and there is a tipping point when the beautiful people drinking Pimms turns into a bunch of really drunk people who fall over and DEMAND you take their picture. NOW. 

But I protest too much, one of the wonderful things I've discovered is that I've gone from bystander to genuinely feeling part of the events. At the Oxford & Cambridge boat race I was around the crew for a few days, snapping them on outings and watching them prepare their boats for the big race, the culmination of years of training.  The PRs and companies who run these events are well oiled machines, but no-one could have predicated what was to happen. A swimmer, an arrogant and ignorant protestor, swam out into The Thames and stopped the race; he was damned lucky not to lose his head. I was at the finish, poised in my spot when Claire Balding shouted 'Cambridge have stopped rowing' and we waited for another 40 minutes whilst chaos ensued on the water. Once they crossed the lines it was us photographers who first spotted the Oxford bowman collapsed.  We frantically shouting at medical boats then watched  as doctors revived him, and I captured the heightened emotions of the two crews as they both came in, confused, angry and upset by everything that had just happened. There were tears and hugs from both sides, and watching from above, I was also getting upset behind my lens. I left emotionally drained but at least had the chance to say to both crews, "Well done, you were all amazing" and knew I had some powerful images that would remind me of a boat race like no other.

Other events have had their moments; The Chelsea Flower Show - you would have thought was a genteel event full of little old ladies. Wrong - on the last day a bell is rung an hour before closing and the flowers and plants from the displays are sold off. I swear it's like a stampede across the Masai Mara and the once placid pensioners have been know to cat fight over a prize-winning begonia. I took refuge behind the BBC camera crew as we huddled for safety behind a stall selling organic vegetable seeds, the wildebeest of ladies had gone wild, and I swear if Alan Titchmarch had turned up I  genuinely would have feared for his life. 
It's taken me few years to believe I have enough skill to make it, but now I have I've realized that following your passion really does make you happy. Having given up a commute to The City, my colleagues are now rowers and polo payers and their magnificent beasts, whilst my office is a press tent at Henley or the lawns of Operas played out on rolling English estates. Everyone I photograph is passionate about the sport they do, and hopefully my love for photography goes some way towards capturing that moment - that split second of a perfect image that will never cease to look back at you. 

As I stood on the Mall the other weekend, sandwiched between Bruce (with the beaver) and 70,000 other people, slightly downwind from the Portaloos and waiting for the 5 seconds when the Queen would pass, I heard a mother speak to her young children. "Out of all the people here today who would you want to be?" she asked, "A soldier? A Princess? A Policeman? Maybe one of the soldiers on horseback?" Her young daughter considered her answered then quite decisively answered, " I would like to be a photographer when I grow up".... By God I could have hugged her. 

Kitty Buchanan-Gregory is a freelance photographer who photographs quintessential British events and 'The English Season' 

KBG Photography


  1. Really amazing shots! You can feel the typical British spirit an style simply by watching them. i am especially impressed by the first one!

  2. What a wonderful article from a fantastically talented photographer. Beautiful beautiful photographs, they truly capture the feeling of the British season. I'll definitely be following Kitty's well-deserved ascent to the top! ...and that coffee table book.. well I will make like the stampeding ladies at the flower show and elbow my way in for the first copy!

  3. "If you haven't any charity in your heart you have the worst kind of heart trouble" to cure it help people, let's unite for one good cause, be a volunteer"save lives"! mawaddainternationalaid

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