From early 2020 onwards I have been documenting young local farmers who, amongst other duties, maintain the sheep at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes. Tim, Arthur and Connor have worked in farming since early age. It is this definitive aspect of their lives which drives me to photograph their unique experiences.
During late February of 2021 the sheep were to be round up and vaccinated. Soon enough I kindly received a message from Tim stating that he was enroute. I didn’t have long to prepare and quickly made my way down. I try my best to engage with all communities. As per my practice of hyperlocal documentary photography, I want to show that it is possible to create interesting and meaningful work with minimal budget and equipment.
As with many situations like this, my thought process is simple. Make sure my equipment is in order and arrive early. Stay present, listen, ask questions and have a spare roll ready in my pocket. Anticipate the next moment and where I need to be. Help out when I’m able to stop shooting, and have a laugh afterwards. Access and rapport comes with: research, preparation, time, respect and the humility to learn from failure or rejection.
It is important to grasp a sense of the people you’re going to be spending significant time with. Understand their hopes, fears, dreams, aspirations, irritations. This process is complex and ongoing. I am investigating what it means to be a young farmer on the edge of town in 2021 and beyond. Reflecting on ideas of identity, age, class, masculinity and mental health.
Introductions and first impressions go a long way. A public notice caught my attention stating that sheep were arriving on a certain day. Having seen iconic images of the same situation from Milton Keynes’ early photographic archive, it was imperative to go. Unfortunately the arrival time was not given, so I waited approximately 6 hours at a high vantage point in the rain. I then saw the tractor arriving and made my way down. With a small introduction I just got on with it. Speaking with them whilst shooting, exchanging contacts and sharing the images. The relationship develops from there.
Always show up. If you care, you’re there.
Arrive early so you can get confident in that space and anticipate possibilities.
Access isn’t given straight away. Keep showing up, don’t leave until they leave.
One should have full confidence that their equipment is functioning and necessary, with plenty of film for all eventualities -my preference is Ilford HP5+ (often pushed). Documenting the farmers regularly involves fast action with overcast lighting so I remain at 800 or 1600. If the sun comes out then I stop-down and play more with layers.
Empathy. They are human beings and their work is hard. Avoid being of any hindrance. I try to help out when possible and prioritise participation during quieter moments. Oftentimes lending a hand is more useful than any photograph could be. One primary question to consider is how would I want to be visually represented? I place emphasis on their personal & professional aspects which I come to understand as more time is spent with them.
I am searching for what has already been achieved in similar projects, and how I can learn and expand from that. Classic documentary work and images from the Milton Keynes archive inspires a great deal.
Thanks for reading, you can follow and see more of the young farmers at A.R Stacey & Son.
See more hyperlocal documentary and stay up to date with NewExitGroup on Instagram or NewExitGroup.com
You can find our debut zine, BARDO, which documents the turbulent summer of 2020 here: http://www.newexitgroup.com/print At time of writing signed copies are almost sold out, so act fast!
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17 thoughts on “The Young Farmers of Milton Keynes – By Sagar Kharecha”
This is a wonderful example of documentary photography. Well done.
Hello Floyd, thank you very much. It continues to be a highly rewarding process, and I aim to exemplify these communities in my hometown.
Floyd beat me to it. This is documentary photography at its best. Your treatment of the subject is masterful.
I have nothing for admiration for those guys and, indeed, for you for your wonderful sympathetic images.
Thank you ever so much, Peter. I think what forms any impression of mastery is simply spending time with them! Waiting in the rain for 6 hours, helping out with tasks… You get a small sense of the work these guys do day-in, day-out.
It is a joy to photograph alongside them.
Thanks for sharing the approach. I really like last shot of man and dog, two great expressions on their faces and such nice detail in the wet muddy coat.
Shot 32 on the contract sheet makes me smile as well.
Hello Yant, yes that was my first encounter with the farmers. Once their work was complete, their sheepdog jumped up and enjoyed some praise. There is certainly a beautiful texture which comes through.
Thank you for looking through the contact sheet. Frame 32 was a cheeky moment haha!
These are truly good photographs. I grew up on a farm, there’s a natural drama to the everyday work, I think it’s because of how timeless the work is, it’s fundamentally part of human life in a way that most of our work and pastimes these days aren’t. I feel like you really captured that, in the intent looks on the faces of the workers, the excellent composition and the classic B&W palette.
You hit the nail on the head, I am so glad it has resonated with you, having grown up on a farm. It is a fundamental vocation, an art and a science. Dealing with hard labour, the life & death of their livestock, supporting their family and community through hard times and unique challenges.
There is a disconnect between urban & rural communities here. I want to contribute a dialogue which brings appreciation towards what this community does.
Thank you, Andrew. There is more to come!
Great documenary photography Sagar, and a lesson in how to approach such a task. I hope you continue to record these people.
Hello Charles, thank you for the kind words. I’m very glad it has invoked such enthusiasm and I shall persevere in working to document the farmers!
A well written article and accompanying photos. I took away three things that anyone engaged in working on in-depth projects should equip themselves with:
1. A working knowledge of your equipment so you can make your photos with confidence. You know what your equipment can do.
2. An empathy for your subject. Robert Capa said something about “LIking people and let them know it.” (I may be messing up the exact working of his quote…)
3.You treat your subjects and their circumstances with respect. You don’t judge or take a moral “high ground” stand.
People should copy your article and carry it with them as a master class.
I am elated to receive such feedback!
Yes absolutely, full confidence in your equipment. The best tools don’t get in the way of themselves and should execute your vision accordingly. In this regard, I find the Nikon F2 ideal.
Empathy and respect is critical in informing the work. In-depth projects and their respective communities benefit immensely when it’s done with proper care and attention. It’s in everyone’s best interest. Readers and fellow photographers can easily suss out a lack of it, and you may end up doing the community a disservice. Thank you very much for reading.
Lovely stuff here, from concept, process and making as well as sharing. A definite need for connections when we work and this comes through. Thank you for your honesty and hard work. I would like to talk too further about this as I am presently embarking on a PhD looking at landscape changes in the rural domain which will, no doubt necessitate talking to and engaging with the of work the land. Many thanks again again Sagar
Wow Sagar, these documentary photos are wonderful!
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This should be the model for wedding photography because this is how photography should indeed be. It’s pretty great all in all.