"I did some research and found there were a lot of extreme, obscure traditions outside of the Morris Dancers, the Maypole and cheese rolling and all of that..."
One of the greats working in UK photography, JPH has shot for Vice, RWD, i-D, Dazed, The NME and many, many more.
I've worked with James on a few shoots and I love how understated he is; both in person and through his photography. He's super-cool. He turns up with his beard, takes some pictures, makes people laugh and then gets on his way.
This week, James is launching a new book; British Folk is the second part of a trilogy looking at the weird and very weird strange traditions carried on in this county. We had a chat just hours after he'd taken a tumble from his bike. Poor JPH.
Tell us about the book and your interest in folk?
It's about folk traditions carried out within the UK, and it's the second book of a trilogy that I'm doing.
I wanted to cover obscure traditions within the UK. Initially, I found a group of Morris Dancers called Hunters Moon. There are a pagan group who were 'tatter' costumes and paint their faces black. They were a bit obscure and extreme, to say the least! It wasn't my pre-conditioned ideas of what I though folk was. I did some research and found there were a lot of extreme, obscure traditions outside of the maypole, cheese rolling and all that.
How long has the project been going for?
I've been shooting it over the past five years now. The problem is, if you miss one, you have to wait a whole year for another to come round. The events are generally in May, because they're pagan related and therefore all to do with seasons.
What has the reaction been from the folk community?
There hasn't been a reaction really. I haven't put the books out to the folk community. I wanted to shoot it the way I shoot and put it out to people of my age and who I hang round with. It's vibrant, not stuffy, old or twee. Despite the fact that up to 10,000 people can attend these events, not many people have ever seen many of these events. Lots of people in London will never have seen or heard about them.
What was the toughest thing about shooting the folk people?
Some of them are very guarded about their traditions. The 'Obby 'Oss in Cornwall is a tradion that is very much for the townspeople, and really not the tourists. I wanted to photograph them in the room where they get ready, but you're only allowed in if you're a local. I got in eventually after a lot of sweet-talking and smiling and I stood out a mile. I was dressed in jeans but as part of that tradition you're supposed to dress in white with a blue neckerchief. It's very 'us and who cares about the rest of them'. I like that.
Most people though were more than happy to help out though. I usually send them prints or photo's and they seem happy enough. I went to photograph The Burry Man in Scotland, who gets covered in hops and paraded around the town. I sent him the images, he loved them. It's nice to get that feedback and feel like you're archiving things that go unnoticed by the majority of people.
What's the most shocking shoot you've done?
I guess when I did the Flaming Tar Barrels in Devon. It's pretty dangerous. If you want to get your hair burnt off or singed, that'll do it. That was pretty audacious and shocking to shoot. You could smell burnt hair everywhere.
James launches the book on Thursday 6th September at the International Picture House, 29 Wadeson St, E2 9DR from 7pm
Find out more right here