Justin Partyka December 26, 2008Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in England.
Farm Sale in Norfolk, England 2008
Editors note: I will be taking the following week off. Verve Photo resumes on January 5th. Best wishes for a healthy and happy new year. Geoffrey Hiller/ Dhaka Bangladesh.
Justin Partyka (b.1972. England) is a self-taught photographer inspired by the Folkways LP Mountain Music of Kentucky made by photographer and musician John Cohen, Partyka trained as a folklorist at Memorial University, Newfoundland, Canada. He received his MA in 2001. In 2003 he abandoned a PhD in folklife studies and left Newfoundland to return home to Norfolk to concentrate on his work as a photographer. He is also a regular contributor of book and exhibition reviews to the photography magazine Source. Partyka is currently working on three long term book and exhibition projects: The East Anglians, The Carnivalesque of Cádiz, and Saskatchewan. Partyka’s photographs have been exhibited at Tate Britain, the Jerwood Space, Belfast Exposed, and the Norfolk Rural Life Museum, among others. Publications include the Guardian Review, the British Journal of Photography, and Granta.
About the Photograph:
“I have been photographing East Anglia’s agrarian culture for eight years now. Small scale farmers, reed cutters, and rabbit catchers: they are the forgotten people of the flatland’s; upholders of the traditional rural ways of working the land that were once widespread throughout this region, but which are now all but gone. Farming appears to be typically misunderstood by the general public in Great Britain, where farmers are often seen as rich land owners who ride around in their expensive four wheel drives complaining about the price of crops. Perhaps some are, but people forget about the small family farm where life has never been easy. At one time hundreds of these family farms populated the East Anglian landscape, but now they are the minority. Those that remain struggle to make a living under the shadow of the agribusiness which surrounds them; constantly having to fight against the effects of a global economy, a forever growing mountain of bureaucratic regulations, and the increasing impact of climate change. As one old-time East Anglian farmer told me: ‘It’s just one big tractor now and a thousand acres, there is nobody on the land today.’ In 1950, the number of people in agricultural employment in East Anglia was 142,225. By 2000 it had fallen to 56,819. ”
The farm sales which take place in East Anglia every spring and autumn are the result of this agricultural decline. They are fascinating events to photograph and since 2003 when I went to my first one, they have become an important part of my work in East Anglia. Not only are they a symbol of the slow death of the region’s traditional rural culture, they are the one place where I have the opportunity to make pictures which include a number of people in a single frame. Like farm work itself, photographing in East Anglia is very much a solitary experience, and I must have spent hundreds of hours standing around in muddy fields observing a farmer (or two) at work as I wait for the rare opportunity of nice light and a special moment to come together. But it all changes at a farm sale where all the rural characters come out of the woodwork and for those brief two hours are gathered together in one place. I love photographing the sales, but they are equally frustrating places to work. I usually find myself fighting for space in the crowd unable to get into the best position: I see pictures but I am too far away, or somebody is partly obscuring the frame and the moment is gone. But occasionally things work out like this photograph of the people gathered around a tractor which is being auctioned. It is not perfect–the light could be better, and I don’t like the partly obscured boy on the right–but it is a good photograph which captures the experience of being at a farm sale. Sometimes that is all you can hope for.