The Hyde Park South Carriage Drive Manège – by Simon King

Early this year, in February, I stepped out of travel quarantine and into a cold, mostly empty city, and spent a lot of my time searching for a space to allocate my time. I needed to get back into a structure and rhythm, and wanted to find something which would encourage early mornings in order to reset my sleeping patterns. I found one solution in Hyde Park, not long after dawn, as military drills took over a small area next to the Knightsbridge Barracks.

The Household Cavalry spend some time each day rehearsing and training, which offered me some excellent potential. I started working the scene over a few days, spending some time each morning in the same location. I hoped that this investment would focus into a project, and after speaking with one of the riding instructors found a good direction for this – I learned that the group I had been photographing was actually a newer set of recruits, fresh from a few weeks of learning equestrian techniques before coming to these barracks for the more military style drills.

For a closer reach I worked with long lenses and teleconverters on my Nikon, which could bring me to around 600mm, which is the furthest zoom I’ve ever used for a project. Even slight twitches from my hand would send my unstabilized setup far from the composition I was trying to make, and the cold didn’t help with my overall steadiness. I enjoyed the challenge and persevered, and the detail work and portraiture that resulted were good – the motion shots were always going to be blurred so I leaned into that aspect for some of the images. The loss of light via the teleconverter and low maximum aperture telephoto, combined with the low winter morning light meant exposing my films ata  minimum of EI800.

For the scenes around and context I used the more standard 50mm, which allows depth but still compressed the scene which was good for an environment which was a paddock sandwiched between fencing, with points of interest either side.

While I spent every morning for a few weeks photographing that group it didn’t develop into a structured narrative. Their advancements through their training was very clear, but subtle and specific, not coming through in the photographs. Over time I found I was more interested in those wider scenes on 50mm featuring the early morning walkers in the park who would gather to spectate. I’ve found this often when working on projects, that whatever first drew my attention there will always be something else you pick up on after spending time really exploring an idea; it’s a valuable tool to recognise whether or not it’s worth sticking to your original vision, to explore the new threads that emerge, a combination of original and new, or to go along a different path altogether.

In this case the project started to wind down as other events and situations started picking up around London, it left me with a body of work without a clearly defined boundary, and I feel I’ve exhausted whats available to me without investing further years into forging direction.

However the images are not useless, as it is possible to incorporate them into the park life project I’ve been spending time on – many projects have aspects which could complement other things being worked on, so I will be folding these into the wider umbrella of parks, absorbing the highlights and leaving the others to work for eventual promotion of the final project. It wont be its own thing as I imagined when I started out but not a complete waste of time either.

Thanks for reading about this work! You can find prints and publications on my website here, or follow my Instagram here.

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6 thoughts on “The Hyde Park South Carriage Drive Manège – by Simon King”

  1. I really enjoy the last photo’s contrasts of concepts – the single camo’d soldier (?) against the backdrop of the multiple cavalrymen in their fancier uniforms.



    1. Thank you, I quite like that one as well – for me it’s the broken symmetry on the upper layer as one of the mounted officers is missing their helmet after a fall, and the camouflaged soldier is holding it, completing the puzzle!

  2. Good for you for getting involved- I’ve always mildly resented these men on their horses for a) preventing me from cycling fast down Constitution Hill on a Sunday morning when they are riding around in their little gang and b) being paid for by my taxes, along with nuclear weapons, murderous foreign military excursions and other martial nonsense.
    There’s always more to anything than is reflected by one’s petty prejudice and your photos are great, especially the long shot of the black Guardsman with all his paraphernalia. My feelings have been humanised- thank you!

    1. I agree there’s a lot of silliness, but once that veil is lifted you realise that most of these recruits are really not too far off from childhood, youngest being 16. There were some images when they removed their helmets at ease where you could have replaced the military gear for school uniform and it wouldn’t have seemed out of place. High compliment to hear my images affected your opinions to that extent, even if just for humanisation – I think that’s one of the most powerful applications of photography.

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