Photography Tom Sloan

a portrait of rural youth: a year spent documenting coming of age in the countryside

Photographer Tom Sloan shot the changing seasons across the cornfields of Norfolk.

by Ryan White
15 November 2018, 8:00am

Photography Tom Sloan

Norfolk is “a playground of boredom, a kingdom of its own,” says photographer Tom Sloan. And though it’s not something specific to this particular East Anglian county alone -- the “playground of boredom” is a place any of us who have grown up outside a big city have spent many, many agonising hours in -- Tom’s latest series, Norfolk, does a good job of capturing the transcendent minutiae of rural Britain. Having no immediate connection to the area, he simply wanted an area to explore. “The appeal was that it was unfamiliar and allowed me to create my own interpretation of the place.”

Tom got into photography as a teen -- a byproduct of, unsurprisingly, boredom. Visiting his dad on the weekends in North Hampshire, he’d ride out into the countryside and “explore, get stoned and take photos”. By the time it came to study A-Levels, he’d flunked a few subjects and needed to retake some exams in order to get into sixth form. “The college advised that I should take some other vocational GCSEs and photography was offered. So I’d shoot pictures of my friends. This was long before social media -- it was just me, documenting what we got up to.”

Bails of hay in a farm in Norfolk

Although no longer a kid milling about getting stoned with his friends, youth remains a strong thread throughout Tom’s work. “I’ve always liked the excitement of being young,” he explains. And that’s what Norfolk is, at its core: an exploration of youth, but beyond the typical setting of a big, urban city. The epic landscape of the region’s cornfields providing a different backdrop for the familiar study of young men coming of age.

From soft, dusk sunlights to harsh, cold greys, over a year, Tom observed the different locals working the land and the families that lived in the surrounding area, getting to know their individual stories a little better. “Some of characters warranted more exploration in the project. Then there’s Alec, who I shot the morning he was released from prison. He’d served a small sentence for dog coursing. He lived in caravan on the outskirts of village. He said he was happy to have his portrait taken as he was pleased to have his freedom back. He took me to his favourite spot for finding deer and hares.”

What’s perhaps most rousing of all across the images and video, is the depth and grandeur of the terrain; the crops against the changing of the seasons. “It was shot seasonally over a year, but it was really interesting as we had one of the coldest winters and the hottest summers on record. So the landscape changed dramatically. The corn fields were scorched by the sun and the cold kept people in doors leaving a baron vista.”

Working on a farm in Norfolk at night
Young man working on a farm in Norfolk
Young man working on a farm in Norfolk
A farm in Norfolk
A farm in Norfolk
Young man on a farm in Norfolk
Crop circles in Norfolk
Young man working on a farm in Norfolk


Photography Tom Sloan

Film directed by James Whitty and Tom Sloan

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

coming of age
tom sloan