justin partyka – the east anglians

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Justin Partyka

The East Anglians

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Situated on the east coast of Great Britain, East Anglia is one of the country’s most rural and agricultural regions.  The flat landscape, massive skies and long farming heritage make East Anglia the closest place that Britain has to a prairie region.

For the last nine years I have been traveling the back roads of rural East Anglia, passing down drove and lane, track and way. On my journeys I discovered the remnants of the agrarian community that was once widespread throughout this region.  For most people this is a world that no longer exists. It is a place where traditional methods and knowledge are still very much depended upon, and the identity of the people is intimately shaped by the landscape on which they live and work. Small-time farmers, reed cutters and rabbit catchers, these are the East Anglians – the forgotten people of the flatlands who continue to work the land because the need to is in their blood.

Central to an agrarian culture is the idea of land: not just working the land, living on the land, and owning the land (all which are important) – but that much deeper concept of being part of the land; the process of it becoming both physically and psychologically engrained in the human experience. It is impossible to escape the presence of the landscape. It creeps from the fields into the home. It enters through an open window, or a crack under the door; engrained in the palm of a hand, or on the sole of a boot. Leeks sprout from the curtains and the table top is fenland peat. The agrarian farmers I have come to know are so deeply rooted to the land, it is as if they have grown up out of the soil like a tree. Such an intimate relationship comes from what the rural writer, farmer and activist Wendell Berry, describes as  “knowledge in place for a long time.”

To enter into the agrarian world of the East Anglians’ is to experience a rural culture that has a direct lineage extending back to the region’s peasant farmers of the early Middle Ages. The agrarian farmer always has one foot firmly planted in the past. The old ways are proven to work and can therefore be relied upon. Everything is visibly engrained with history. Buildings are often cobbled together and are a ramshackle mix of wood, tin, and stone. And the agricultural machinery is a patchwork of rust, mud, and oil stains in which the past is embedded.

The agrarian farmer knows in fine detail the histories and biographies of his local landscape. After years of familiarity with the land he knows what is the best cycle of crop rotation on any particular field, where it lies wet in winter, and how best to plough, sow, hoe, and harvest that field to reap the best from it. Unaided by a map, he can negotiate the complex network of local droves and tracks by day and night, and walk the fields and woodlands, fen and marsh equally so. Inside the agrarian mind are the local wind patterns and river currents; along with the life stories of the local inhabitants, wildlife habitats, and tree and plant species past and present. I have been told of farmers who have come and gone, from what direction the fox will come to steal a chicken, and who planted a particular oak tree and when.

But during the last sixty years an agrarian way of life has become increasingly irrelevant in a modern society, and the East Anglians find themselves living on the margins. Most of the small family farms in East Anglia are now gone, while the fields of agribusiness have grown bigger, swallowing up the landscape as they go. The result is the depopulation of the rural landscape, and with it the loss of the knowledge of local place and the traditional skills of working the land that are so important to an agrarian culture. As one old-time farmer said to me, “It’s just one big tractor now and a thousand acres. There’s nobody on the land today.” “But” he continued, “there will always be those that straggle on – the awkward ones who remain.”

I have spent many hours in the fields, patiently watching how man and the landscape intimately shape each other. If I am looking closely, occasionally I am offered a glimpse into the mystery of this ancient relationship. It is a fleeting moment; I click the shutter; and I wait….

Exhibition & Book:

A major exhibition of The East Anglians is appearing at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, UK,  29 September – 13 December 2009.

For further details and news of related events please see: www.scva.ac.uk, or telephone +44 (0)1603 593199

Subscriptions are also open to assist with the production of a limited edition book of The East Anglians, to be published to celebrate the exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre.  The book will be published in an edition of 40 for sale copies, with 10 artist’s proofs which will serve as samples and thank you gifts for persons who have assisted with the book.  For further details please contact Justin Partyka via his website.



Justin Partyka is a British photographer and writer currently based in the county of Norfolk. He trained as a folklorist at Memorial University, Newfoundland, Canada, before moving back to the UK to work on The East Anglians. Partyka has exhibited at Tate Britain, Belfast Exposed, the Jerwood Space, and various galleries in East Anglia. His work has been published in Granta, the Guardian Weekend, Source, and the Drawbridge.


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Justin Partyka


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

53 Responses to “justin partyka – the east anglians”

  • Hi Justin

    Some really beautiful images, particularly 21, I also liked 3,7, and 9. I get a feel for the land through the images of the people. Those of just the landscape for me don’t seem to capture the essence of the essay as much. Possibly my own personal bias as I am an urban dweller. I think what makes the essay compelling are the photos of the people on the land, working the land. The crumbling, forlorn buildings and homes evoke a sadness but also a sense of abandonment and desolation. It is an effective reproach against corporate agriculture without direct engagement.

    Great Work,


  • Hi Justin,

    I live slightly north of the locations you have explored but I would, if pushed, claim to be an East Anglian. These prairie landscapes seem incredibly difficult to photograph – to convey a sense of the space, peace and, of course, the underlying agrarian economy. You have done a great job though I too would have been interested to learn more of the people as well as the human/landscape relationship that interests you.

    Perhaps my understanding is different – or maybe the economy is different here – but these apparently desolate, impoverished lifestyles also fit within a bigger picture. I found myself looking for the multi-million pound harvesters and the Range Rovers which, in my experience, are also woven into the landscape – and possibly within the otherwise humble lifestyles of those you have portrayed.

    This is a complex story, multi-faceted story and I wonder if you have edited too tightly here?

    Interesting work…thanks.


  • Hah, what a co-incidence I am planning to go to the sainsbury centre at the weekend to see this bunch of pics.

    Will let you know my thoughts when I have been to the exhibition.



  • Way too much blue in these. Not sure why that is.

    My family have a holiday bungalow on the east coast(hemsby). I used to go there pike fishing in the winter a lot.
    Very bleak, very flat. Big skies and water. I dont go there so much now.
    This is a nice story.

  • Hey John you will recognise http://www.aitkenimages.co.uk/#/new-work/4534026042

    I have been doing a project on Hemsby for a while now, it is in the spirit of trying to rejuvenate it on no budget whatsoever, There has been or will be an article in the london Metro about it too.

    I was there the other day in the indian summer sun, amazing.



  • Justin P.,

    I think you’ve done an excellent job conveying the feeling of the land and the mood and character of the people who identify with it. While some pictures are stronger than others (and in what essay isn’t that true?), the overall level is quite high. Unlike Frank Michael, I found the ‘pure landscape’ photos (of which I counted only 5, maybe 6, out of 28 images) to be the most eloquently expressive of all. Half the pictures or more are ‘people pictures’. Admittedly, not all of them are necessarily ‘portraits’ in the usual sense… often people’s facial features are obscured somewhat, but they are nonetheless ‘people pictures’ which tell us quite a bit about who lives and works here, how they dress, their body language, and how they fit into the landscape. There are also about 6 or so ‘atmosphere’ shots, interiors, yards, bedroom curtains, etc. Not so many really, and I think quite appropriate for conveying the psychological universe of which they are significant fragments.

    Something I’ve often noticed before, not just here on BURN, and not only among photographers, is a real and deep divide in sensibility to, awarenes of, and engagement with rural and wild landscapes between ‘city dwellers’ and ‘country folk’ (although that is too simplistic a division, of course). There are folks for whom pictures with no people are fairly meaningless, who get bored looking at ‘scenery’, especially if it is something more subtle than the conventionally ‘spectacular’ or ‘majestic’ landscapes of the Grand Canyon, the Swiss Alps, or the Sahara Desert. Nothing wrong with that, to be expected I guess. Unless you have actually grown up in, or gotten to know well, and on some level identified with, a particular rural landscape (and the lifestyle that symbiotically goes with it), it is probably hard to read much into vistas of fallow fields and bare tree branches against a fading winter sun, other than maybe to feel that it is a bit ‘bleak.’ For some people who do have that experience, however, these are extremely eloquent visual documents with layers and layers of resonance (far more than I found in ‘Israeli Women’, for example).

    I started out as a landscape photographer, and it was a close identification with a rural landscape that made me want to seriously take pictures. I also studied and later taught geography as a subject, and my particular interest was something called the ‘cultural landscape’, of which this photo essay presents an excellent example. I find it very rich and deep, in a way that I have found with only a few other essays on BURN, but I also recognize that a lot of that comes from my own particular background. This divide in sensibility and perception in ‘reading’ landscapes, between city dwellers and country folk is something I observed again and again as a geography teacher, and I think this divide may be stronger even than the ones between people of different nationalities, languages, or religions. City dwellers in London, Mumbai, Tokyo, and New York have far more in common with each other than they do with the peasant cultures living close to the land in their respective countries.

    I’ve never been to East Anglia (though some of my ancestors come from Norfolk), so I can’t comment directly on Steve M’s question about just how ‘representative’ or ‘comprehensive’ a view this is of the whole local mosaic of traditional and modern, but I don’t think that Justin set out to do an ‘ethnography’ of East Anglia… from his artist’s statement (I rarely pay any attention to these things, but in this case, I did) I certainly got the idea that he recognized he was singling out fragments of a relict cultural landscape. So I don’t think there is any misrepresentation here.

    I don’t know what your background is Justin, but as someone who has at times lived close to the land in several different countries, I think you are doing justice to the subject, and I flatter myself that perhaps on some level we are kindred spirits. Good work. I hope to see more!

  • Justin, Beautifully shot essay. I think this is one of the best so far on burn. Love shots 9, 18 and 21.

  • This is very well done. Nice Work.

  • This is a wonderful project and beautiful pictures. The only thing i miss is images of women. There is only one.

    I realise all of a sudden that I’ve seen so very little photography about the UK rural life and even village life. Is there so little left of this world that it only exists in East Anglia? I have no problem with the missing signs of modernity. But if it was included, you could leave out the whole paragraph discussing it from your statement. But whether you bring it to our attention in the images or in text, I don’t think it matters here because the images without modernity speak of other things that would be eclipsed by the issue of modernity’s encroachment on tradition if it were in the pictures. Well it matters in that it changes what you are trying to show but it doesn’t matter in that the pictures make me aware of something that speaks to me and I find valid and important, that is to say, a world that is all but past. It might seem that one is hankering after romantic tradition but I find justified these days, because modernity is becoming more and more and more dehumanising and problematic. I think there is a place to be reminded of what we are losing in the race for technology. Technology creates problems as it solves them and no one seems to acknowledge this. Technological development is always spoken of only in a positive light. This sort of work is a gentle reminder that there are options. You could say it stands as a mild critique of the modern world.

  • Very good work. Enjoyed it.

  • beautiful and pure documentary essay. Love your compositions and use of colors. The whole set brings back some memories of my childhood in Slovakia former Czechoslovakia and summer holidays spend at my grandparents in the country side in a small Village where people were close to the nature and farmland. Old and many times rusty equipment and technology gives magical and poetical feel and atmosphere. You have introduced beautiful part of Britain that’s at least to me unknown and unseen, with it’s strong tradition and rituals. It’s great pleasure to discover how people live in this part of the World and how close they are to their land.

  • Justin

    Congratulations. Delightful stuff.

    These photos resonated with me, and seemed very familiar. I grew up in central Alberta, in a landscape not unlike the one pictured here. I also noted the Saskatchewan series on your site.

    I like your approach. It is very quiet and understated. I can almost smell some of the scenes, or feel a cool breeze in others. Your presence is not felt, leaving me feel as if I were standing there invisible within the scene.

    thanks for this.

  • I really like these photos. They have a documentary feel, but many of them go beyond this and make the viewer ponder. I love the soft colors and the wonderful compositions. Great stuff!

  • I liked these a lot, particularly 7. I’d imagine these old guys offspring will be selling the land and houses I can’t imagine you can compete with the old kit they are using. I thought the landscapes lacked energy but maybe that’s Norfolk.

  • I really liked this. I too can imagine that the land and buildings will eventually be sold off only to reappear on a “Moving to the Country” TV programme, where well-heeled urban dwellers convert the farm buildings into fancy homes and loft conversions…

    Here in NZ we were (and still are) brought up on Brit tv programmes like the James Herriots vet series, so this essay evokes a similar feeling in me. I could imagine some of these characters and locations in an episode of “Heartbeat”, even though that series was set in the 60’s.

    Good work.

  • Justin,

    your images succeed in conveying the ordered rythms of rural life, together with its hardness. (From a mere digi-technical point of view, it seems that most of the interior shots lack a bit of contrast with pale blacks…)

  • Nine years! Fascinating how patient some are to get their projects done the right way.. I wish I had the same patience.. You have a beautiful, clear and focused vision on this project. I would love to have a copy of the book.

    You could leave out one of the landscapes from the essay, and right now I’m thinking that #24 is the one, it’s too much about the coloured after-sunset-mood and doesn’t lead the story anywhere. The foggy landscapes is also more about the “glimpse into the mystery” which connects better with the project as a whole.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed this essay. Good colors and composition, excellent flow. Truly tells a story, you totally get the feel of their every day life. I loved it.

    Reminds me of the fisherman’s life back in Newfoundland, where my family is from… very similar simplicity and down-to-earthness.

    Excellent work.

  • “Levin had also begun that winter to write a work on farming, the basis of which was that the character of the worker had to be taken as an absolute given in farming, like climate and soil, and that, consequently, all propositions in the science of farming ought to be deduced not from the givens of soil and climate alone, but also from the known, immutable charaacter of the worker.”–Tolstoy, “Anna Karenina”

    “The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope….I am not bound for any public place, but for ground of my own where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadow of the woods….It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are. …”–Wendell Berry

    First of all my friend, let me congratulate you on this gorgeous, lyrical, humble and beautiful essay. Since the moment i first saw the early work up until last December when you sent me the PDF for your book, I’ve taken it closely into my heart and been inspired, not the least of which is the grace with which you have honored these men and women with your pictures and your words. What I have always loved best about your East Anglian stories is both the silence and strength with which you’ve capture the truth and the hard-won working of that land. For in truth, we are of the land, all of us, and the closer our ties, the more clear is that transformation, and there it is in all of your pictures: a stalwart farmer walking the field pitched against the wind as if a lone tree in a discarded orchard, a woven sprint of light seeded along the burrow of a farmer’s profile, light and patch of shade implanting the length of his years, the quiet acceptance and renewal of death, the long and lean scarlet lines, the beet-seed blue’s of dawn when light is as if breath, the land’s breath that continues to linger in the corners of the rooms and kitchens, as if not the men and women but the land that comes to birth and work and wrest within the pitches and patches of these homes…for in truth, for all farmers, the home is the land, and the land the beds into which they wrest and rest their limbs and lungs. As a child, moved from a city to the country, i could barely contain my love of mud and windlass, of dry earth scared over thumbs and digits, of crops grown hard by wind and farmers stiff with stories….it is an essential life, and it’s all there in these contemplative and honoring pictures…

    as sidney has eloquently articulated, this story honors not just the men and women who work that hard and broad land, but also the spirit and stories contained and harvested from them. It is an extraordinarily patient series and one that, at least for me, blooms upon revisitation….the warmer that looks as if from a Wyeth or Van Gogh, tossing seed, the barn burned by auburn sky like a church, the two quiet beds as if tombstones, fruits of light and plumbs of mist, all these which seem to be our own universal story….and how that works itself upon us….

    but above all Justin, what i love about this story is your grace and your quiet humility. for this is a story that one remembers, that one wants to know more about, that one wants to spent time speaking with these men and women, boot-mudding over the furrows, gently stroking the hair of the fox and rabbit, the mud caught beneath the thumb nail….wind and wet and waking…

    and, as i told you this morning, M and i are so proud of you, of this work, of YOUR BOOK (!!!) and on this day, the opening of your exhibition…if it were in our power to be there we would…..

    those interested, here is the link for Justin’s show at the Sainsbury Centre:


    no matter how much i look at this story…and the longer Book PDF and the exhibition set (50 images right?)…i never tire….

    rooted and all…


  • As much as I like most part of this piece of work, I can’t help noticing that certain images are over-edited…
    I definitely prefer outdoors like #2, #3 or # 11, rather than others like #21 where the sky has been too obviously “photoshoped” (unless the camara used has a dynamic range of 20 stops, but even still…). For me, images like this stand out too much and just don’t work in an fine like this.

    All in all, a beautiful exercise.

  • “…and just don’t work in a fine essay like this” I meant.

  • An absolute jewel. As I read the introductory essay, I didn’t want it to end. It was enough in and of itself. I didn’t even feel I needed to see the photos. But then I started watching the slideshow and I didn’t want that to end. Justin took me into the heart and soul of these people, of this place, of this way of life. His is a document for the ages because I fear, as the elder farmer said, it is on its way out. Agribusiness will eat it up. Except for “those that straggle on — the awkward ones who remain.”

    Bravo, Justin. You have allowed yourself to enter East Anglia as few non-natives before you, and in doing so you have saved it from extinction. At least the East Anglians and others from places diverse and far afield will have your images and words and the story they tell to hold onto when the “one big tractor and a thousand acres” have taken over the land. May the awkward ones not give up, may they always remain.

    Regarding earlier discussions we Burnians have had about text and images in the essays we have seen, Justin shows us the way. To my mind and eye and heart, his words are a perfect compliment to his photos…and vice versa. How I hope your work will be picked up by a publisher like Phaedon so it will be accessible to all.


  • Justin,

    1,5,9 and 20 are nice. I hate to be the only one not all praise here, but I just don’t know much more about these folks. For me it was too many images. The approach seems rather estranged from the subjects rather than engagint them.

    I’ll let the chips fly. Keep working with these folks. There’s a lot more there.


  • These images remind me of home. Thanks for sharing them. I really enjoyed them.

  • Sometimes the work just seems complete and this is a great example of that. Lots of thought and research, resulting in an informative, well written, accompanying text that doesn’t stay in the way of images but rather completes the experience. Very fine images too. The obvious documentary nature of the essay justifies the number of photographs; it might be tighter for some other forms of publishing but here, on Burn, works just fine as it is.
    Nice work Justin.

  • Very nice series, Justin.
    Does a great job of conveying the connection of the people to the land.
    They certainly have a penchant for hanging their dead animals as if to display the act.

    On a technical note many of the images seem to lack any deep blacks and where one would
    expect black there is a greenish hazy feel.

    Looks like the effect I see when trying to overlighten a transparency when scanned on an Imacon.
    If this is the case you can, at least, neutralize this shadow cast by going to the green channel
    in the curves or levels pane in Photoshop and moving the black point a little to the right

  • fox
    on a fence,
    great imagery..
    what a feeling,
    what a story…..
    your negs seem thin,
    or prints too blue…
    or something….
    but your imagery

  • Justin,

    I like your images of rural life in this part of globe. I am very sure you know by now that how harsh life would be in the agricultural life.
    You take care


  • very nice reprortage… love it. ciao

  • Justin , Beautifuly understated,subtle and effective. The good folk of East ASnglia would be proud to grace the pages of BURN in such a fashion,Kudos to you Sir!

  • Justin – really nice work.

    A lot of cleverness going on there too. It’s a deep documentary of the place, people and the heritage. You obviously have befriended the individuals and have had excellent access. I think that this work will be very important for the local area in years to come. Documenting history as it enfolds is that which you are doing and this is indeed a worth exploit.

    Best wishes. (and well done on your well received burn publication)

  • I thought this was a really really engaging story. Great work.

  • Such a curious absence of children…

    Plenty of people have already said this is a wonderful set of images, and I agree. However, I wonder if it is it really so bleak, or is that an artistic impression? I’m inclined to think the latter, but I’ve never been there as you have.

  • This is a type of photography the Eastern Eurpoean photographers excel at as the seem to be connected……… this sorta works and then gets lost wihin itself. Could do with a bit of whimsical input

    Yea it needs a bit of comic relief as Streit does http://www.jindrichstreit.cz/

  • Thank you Jason, for sharing this with us.

    I felt I gained a real sense of how these people live, I loved the images you gave us to examine. You were obviously asking us to spend a little time getting to know these people and their way of life, just as you did.
    I found myself feeling real emotion as a watched the slideshow serve up image after image, surley that has to be good!
    I did miss perhaps a couple more portrait shots, or close-ups, but that’s just my personal tastes rearing their ugly heads…

    Congrats on a wonderful body of work.

  • imats loved the link, great sense of humour and timing. Life can be so dour at times

  • Hi everyone.

    Thanks for the comments so far. I’ll briefly reply to some below:

    Steve M: I’m guessing you must be in Lincolnshire? “Multi-million pound harvester and the Range Rovers” – that’s a very different story in my eyes. That’s the other side of the hedge and a different world. “The East Anglians” in my work are the marginalised agrarians of the region. Range Rovers and Multi-million pound harvesters are in opposition to an agrarian mentality. See the quote by Wendell Berry in Bob Black’s post.

    Sidney Atkins: Thanks for your thoughtful response to the work. I think there is probably some truth in what you write about the different sensibilities in “city dwellers and country folk”. Obviously not everybody is able to see beauty in the bleak or non majestic landscape. From your first paragraph it seems you have a good understanding of what this project explores. I’m pleased it “speaks” to you.

    AndreaC: there are very few women in this agrarian world unfortunately. In the early stages of the project I struggled a bit with how to deal with that, but in the end after talking with various people I decided not to be concerned by it and all I can do is show what is there. Some of the text which I’ve written to feature in the final book of this work touches on departing of women. But remember: a photographer could very easily work on a project in a largely female domain in which there would be few, if any men.

    jandak: I have not had the opportunity to visit Eastern Europe but I have a strong sense that similar rural worlds exist there. One day I will explore them….

    Gordon L: the same with Alberta. Never been, but I’ve talked to various people from there about the landscape and way of life and it sounds like my kind of place. I had a grand idea to work on a series of life time projects, one for each Canadian province. My experience is Saskatchewan was very special and greatly informed some of the East Anglian work. Who knows….

    jasmine.lux: unfortunately when I studied in St. John’s I did’t get much opportunity to see the rest of Newfoundland. But I’d like to return. It is a special place.

    bob black: thank you. “the two quiet beds as if tombstones”. That has allowed me to see that photograph in a new way and given it even greater significance! Yes, 57 images in the show.

    Ramon Mas: I have no idea what dynamic range is, but none of these images have been “photoshopped.” This work is made on slide film (Fuji Provia).

    Patricia: Thank you. I place as much importance on the writing as I do the photographs. As you and others have pointed out, both play an equal role in telling this story. John Berger wrote something in the preface to I Could Read The Sky – a book by Timothy O’Grady and Steve Pyke – which had a great impact on me. He said this:

    “And so they work together, the written lines and the pictures, and they never say the same thing. They don’t know the same things, and that is the secret of living together.
    The photos are a reminder of everything which is beyond the power of words…. And the words recall what can never be made visible in any photograph.”

    I think anybody working on a serious project should remember this, as you are with your book. There are some classic examples around to study: Agee and Evans, Kerouac and Frank, Larry Towell, Eugene Richards, Bill Allard, to name a few. I hope a publisher will pick up the work too!

    Andrew Gray: just as women, this is not a world of children. That’s why the traditional agrarian way of life may not continue. Of course this work is my own subjective view of this region. I have never called myself a photojournalist. I never set-up a photograph in anyway, or manipulate an image; what the photographs show is there and it happened before MY eyes, but I can only photograph it in the way that I see it. Perhaps if you photographed there it would not be so bleak, but I would wonder if you really got to the heart and the soul of the place: what makes it unique.

    Off to give a talk at the exhibition. More soon….



  • Hi Justin, nice work! Its remember me to a new book of Raymond Depardon “Terre des Paysans”.
    I really like the picture taken inside the cage of chickens, looking to human, as they were in prison…

    If you have the luck to come back, just shot more inside pictures. Having luch, having tea, etc… I mean, you’re closer of them, I suppose they have no problem at all. Just try that.

    Cheers, Pat.

  • Do you ever get people complaining that you’re calling them bumpkins? Thinking of the horrible yard, filthy sheets, grotty pantry. Isn’t it a bit belittling to make those aspects your subject? I know you don’t intend disrespect, but just wondering what you’d say to that.

  • Wonderful work Justin. Love it

  • Imants,
    that was Really cool..

  • JUSTIN..:)
    great work…
    i see in your work…
    nothing pretentious…
    thank u


    just saw your Streit link…..terrific work…crosses a lot of lines…thanks

  • Mark W,

    I do not see those things as you do, and neither do the people whose lives they are part of. I would not spend 9 years photographing the East Anglians to call them “bumpkins.” I attempt to photograph them with great respect, not insult. They are my friends now, and they welcome me into their homes as if they were my own.

    Yes, they live different to me, and clearly different to the way you do, but if you look closely at the work you will hopefully not see the things you describe in the images. There is nothing horrible, filthy or grotty here.



  • Panos,


    Interesting to think of you looking at the world of The East Anglians as you speed across the USA.

    Is your trip in the style of Dean Moriarty or the Bandit?

    Sounds like you’ve got interesting things planned in Greece.

    Safe travels and keep that Leica at the ready.


  • Justin,
    I mentioned earlier, that I wanted to leave my view of you essay untill I had seen it in the flesh.

    I have lived in Norfolk since 1999, so I can no way be called a local, I believe that comes after several generations…..

    I have seen some of your images over the years in literature printed by the Sainsbury centre, I think you might have been involved with meet the artist type things in the past. The pictures I saw in these press releases picqued my interest and they stuck in my mind. I will be frank here because that is the only way I know. The images stuck out for me because there are not many photographers supported and associated with the sainsbury center, the photographs that were reproduced were often very dark (underexposed) and had a blue cast (as John Gladdy pointed out earlier) so to me technically there were issues, these things can always be explained or excused if circumstances didn’t allow or the story is strong enough to overide these issues.. So I was very pleased to hear that you were having an exhibition so I would get a chance to discover the sainsbury centre’s belief in you and your imagery.

    You have a large exhibition in the main exhibiting space of the centre, the show is impressive, the setting is impressive,the publicity is impressive the support by the centre is impressive, so I must congratulate on that, that is a great achievement.

    The exhibition itself, is much larger than what you have shown here.

    There are a few gems in the above slide show 3,18,19,26 and the running order is good.

    I was really looking forward to the exhibiiton but it really is very different from the slide show above, there are many prints of varying sizes and some extremly large prints.I completly know that what you see in print is never going to look the same as seeing over the web. The prints are heavy and dark so in some instances the details are barely legible, all of the images above are much lighter than the prints and vastly improved for it, take for example images 2,18,20,24,26,27 alot of the nuances are lost in the prints they are so dark. The guys praying/swearing at the tractor, you can hardly see them in the print. This only compounds the questions I have with the techinical issues mentioned above. I appreciate darkness, blur etc add atmosphere to images, take Chris Bickfords surfing essay, fantastic. but I am afraid for me it doesn’t work here, and I think you must feel the same as you would not have severely enhanced the images above to be different from the exhibition prints.

    To me an exhibition of this size and stature, every print should be a star, this is not what I found, the exhibition has a few great prints, with many that are distracting and annoying because the best has not been brought out of them through the printing. This takes us back to the master printer debate. I would be interested to know if you were in the darkroom guiding the printing by Metro or if you left to others.

    I like the story of the agrarian, it is a great project, to document the hidden world of the tradional/small farmer/landworker. To do this I understand you have to build trust, develop the story,adapt the story, find the subjects. I see that you have treated your subjects with respect. I know the countryside round here, there are plenty of small lanes, plenty of ominous/spooky looking farmsteads and it can be difficult plucking the courage to approach these and ask permission, (especially since the Tony Martin case (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Martin_(farmer)) I have had to do it myself.

    You say you have taken 9 nine years on this project, that is an impressively long time and I admire your dedication and commitment. I have one question, Why? This is a project that in the hands of say DAH could have been done in a couple of weeks to a month, maybe with return visits stretched over a year, to get the seasons. i would be interested to hear why it took so long.

    I like the project, but I have the above doubts. I feel like the bad apple in the pile amoungst all the above glittering praise, so I have had to fight to keep my convictions on this. I was also approached unsolicited at the weekend, by a designer who also had questions as to why this exhibition was taking such a prominant position within the sainsbury centre. I guess the answer will be in the visitor numbers of concurrent exhibition Subversive spaces and The east Anglians.

    I look forward to your response to gain a further understanding of your work.


  • IAN,

    Thanks for your comments, and I’m pleased you made the effort to go and see the show, even if it left you disappointed.

    I’ll try and answer some of your questions the best I can:

    This is my first involvement with the Sainsbury Centre, so the things you have seen over the years were not connected to me. Who knows for sure why they have invested in my work, obviously they must like it.

    It is not quite true to say that they do not usually support photography. They show such a mix of work there that photography does not feature in every show, but photography is shown there. They had a show from the V&A photography collection not too long ago, and in the 1980s they had a large exhibition of P H Emerson’s work. And there has been other things in between. From talking to the curators, photography is very much part of their mandate as a public art museum.

    I did not quite understand what you meant by saying that the exhibition is very different from the slide show featured on Burn. They are different ways to present work and therefore will obviously feel and look differently.

    I think that the ability to feature different size prints is one of the benefits of exhibiting work and help tell the story. That was intentional.

    I agree that some of the publicity material for the show has not presented the images at their best. I tried to keep control of that side of things as much as I could but the machine proved to big, with too many people involved. In the end I realised that I have to let the marketing and press people and the designers etc do their job. Sometimes you have to let go of the work….

    As for the prints. All I can say is that I worked very closely with Metro and the prints are how I wanted them and are as close a match as possible to the original 35mm slides. My work is dark. That’s how I photograph. I know that not everybody appreciates that and you’re not the first to say so, but it is how I want to work and I’m standing by that. I like the way that details are hidden in the darkness of the prints and sometimes you have to look closely to see it. For me is helps create an intimacy with the work, forcing you to get in close. But not all the work is like that. Mainly only those made in low light.

    I have not made any changes to the scans and the files I submitted to Burn are from the scans for the exhibition prints. Perhaps some are a bit lighter but that must be down to the difference of viewing images on the screen compared with prints and moving the images from different colour balanced worksflows. I think the images reproduced in the small catalogue were pretty close to the exhibition prints.

    What the print shows is what the screen at Metro showed. We did various rounds of contact sheets and test prints so I can assure you that care was taken. If you see a problem with the prints, it is not with the work of Metro, but with my vision of the world.

    There is one print in the show (a farm yard scene which was next to the leeks print) which I think could perhaps be a little bit lighter. The farmers praying around the tractor is shown as intended. Obviously when working with slide film at dusk the exposure latitude is very fine and it would have been easy to over expose the sky in that situation. The slide is dark and the print is dark.

    I realise that my work does not fit within what a technically perfect photograph should look like, but I have never attempted to conform to those expectations.

    Obviously I feel I should defend my time working on the project, but I do not agree that DAH or anybody else could produce this work in 2 weeks or a month. The time has very much reflected my vision of how I wanted to photograph and portray this world. As DAH hammers away on Burn, it is a question of my authorship. Some of the situations I have photographed have only occurred once. I’ve worked very carefully to work in the best light. That requires going back again and again, sometimes each year. For instance the sugar beet harvest scene with the man standing near the red tractor. In the whole time I have worked on the project, I have only photographed the sugar beet harvest that one time with light like that. It is perhaps not one of the best images from the project, but I’m using it as an example of how I work.

    I know that if this work was for a magazine assignment I would not have the luxury to wait for the perfect light. And I have the thousands of images I’ve made which were done on days when the light was not so special. So it reflects the editing process too: what I’ve chosen to show. I could have presented this work in many different ways, but I have a vision and I have stuck with it.

    In addition to this, there is also the process of gaining access as you touch on. I have photographed many farms and situations which eventually did not make it in the exhibition, simply because they have a different aesthetic feel and would not fit in with my vision.

    As for the comment by the designer, I am interested that people are having this reaction. But what can I say: the Sainsbury Centre has two temporary exhibition spaces, which are both prominent in size. So I can only say that the work is be shown in the space they offered me.

    I hope this has helped to clarify the work and the show a little bit.

    DAH: the question of authorship raises it’s head again. Do you have any thoughts to add on this: not about my work specifically but about the process of finding your authorship and establishing it regardless of what others thought about the work. I seem to recall you saying something about also preferring dark images. What other experiences have you had regarding this?

    Best to all,


  • Justin, thanks for your detailed reply.

    I agree with the authorship of an image, I too have many dark images that I sell as prints and appear on my site, I too get questioned about the darkness, but I am happy to stick with it. It takes time to develop the confidence to stick with your convictions. I just am puzzled by the difference between the prints and what is appearing here.

    I still must insist that from my view there is at least one stop difference between the prints in the exhibition and what is appearing here. Please understand i am not questioning your style, that is your choice/authorship.

    I have spent many years shooting velvia 50asa and still do when I can get my hands on it. I am familiar with the latitude issues.

    I am also convinced I have seen your work on promotional material from the Sainsbury centre a few years ago.

    Re the exhibition, I have no dispute over the varying sizes of prints I agree it is essential and a good tool, in my previous post i was merely mentioning it to help other readers here appreiate what the exhibition is like in the flesh.

    Regarding the promotional material associated with your exhibition I have not questioned that, I know all too well that things can go wildly out of control once things have passed through the cmyk print process. I too think they have done a good job of the catalogue.

    I am glad to hear that you have never tried to conform to the technically perfect picture, rules are made to be broken after all.

    The nature of documentary or indeed most photography, is that you have one chance (the only exception I can currently think of is Still life). I return many times to the landscapes I shoot, each time is different.

    I am still confused by the time.

    many thanks, maybe we could meet for a beer sometime.




    i do intend to have a long talk with you about your work, your style, your authorship, your book…my suggestion is by skype since we seem to have no concurrent meeting points in person..perhaps early next week?? or in early november….by the time i break free here in new york these days , you are most likely sleeping…early morning is usually best for me in terms of the kind of mental energy i need for a good critique….and right now, i have no early mornings free….please be patient and do not be afraid to send me e-mail reminders or skype chat messages….i know you have put a lot into East Anglians, so to properly respect your efforts i want to make sure we have the time to go over everything in the best possible online setting…

    cheers, david

  • For those that are interested, Andrew Lambirth – art critic of the Spectator – has reviewed The East Anglians exhibition this week.


    I won’t be around for the “live” with Martin Parr this evening, but I look forward to reading the conversation.

    May Friday night be a great success at Burn HQ.

    Best to all,


  • An in-depth and valuable interview with Justin about the project and his relationship to this project, including his educational background….the kind of thoughtful information that allows viewers to approach this essay from different perspectives. It’s long, but worth the read.



  • Beautiful work, I really really love it.

  • 2010 World Crokinole Champion, Justin Slater, has been heavily rumored to be trained by ancestors of the Eagan-Fitzgerald Cabal of the 1940’s. It is now believed by some that Slater was trained in Italy by WWE wrestler, Santino Marella in 2008 or 2009.

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