Jamie Hawkesworth: "The British Isles"

A Tender Approach to British Weirdness

Photobook Reviews, Episode 1 – by Kate Schultze

I first came across Jamie’s work when he photographed Emma Corinn for Vogue in 2022. A double spread of Emma standing in a great hall with wooden walls, dressed like a fairy that just experienced an electric shock on the left and confidentially posing, wearing a lobster costume on the right. As weird as this might sound, these pictures fascinated me, as they transported an atmosphere of power and childlike cheekiness as well as one of tenderness and intimacy. I asked myself, how is it possible to unite all these emotions in one image? I still haven’t fully found the answer, but Jamie’s second book, "The British Isles", certainly works as a great tool to investigate this further.

Publisher

MACK

Layout

Hardcover, 22x26cm, 304 pages

Price

55 €

Link

Hawkesworth, originally from the South of England, is one of Britain’s most well-known fashion and documentary photographers, having worked with many designers and brands, like MIU MIU and Loewe and having shot for the biggest fashion magazines in the world. He started to study forensic science in Preston and later switched to studying photography. Jamie got a RB67 and started to walk around his neighbourhood. For 13 years he travels up and down the whole of the UK by train. This resulted in two photobooks. First "Preston Bus Station", later his second photobook "The British Isles" published by MACK in 2021. 304 pages of images Hawkesworth took between 2007 and 2020, chosen from over a thousand hand prints he made in his darkroom in London. This book combines everyday moments, with classic unusual British scenes we came across in projects like "Parr’s Last Resort". Landscapes, still lifes, details and portraits. "The British Isles" feels like Jamie’s personal diary exploring the UK. Through a variety of what seem conservatively composed images as well as inventive angles and soft, warm colours he makes us appreciate everyday moments that suddenly seem surreal and out of this world (in a very positive way). It’s almost like stepping into a painting from the romantic period, but in the modern age (and in Britain).

Personally, I draw the most inspiration in this book from the portraits. Having first used the strategy of aimlessly walking around as practice for getting more comfortable with taking portraits of strangers, Hawkesworth now provides us with the mastery of street portraits. Whether it’s school children, people smoking or group portraits of families moving and friends hanging out. I could probably write a whole page alone just on the variety of haircuts he photographed, but I let you explore this yourself. He does not shy away from imperfections, like holes in the film emulsion or closed eyes on family portraits. This proves that so called mistakes do not make one seem unprofessional. On the contrary, including these images in the edit provides a sense of intimacy to the viewer, like we’re being let into Jamie’s secret imperfect world.

The British Isles marks the beginning of a new era of a tender approach to the weirdness of British documentary photography and hopefully will be named together with photographers like Paul Graham or Chris Killip in the future.

If you enjoy Jamie’s work, also have a look at Max Miechowski’s "Land Loss" or Laura Pannack’s "The Cracker".