The Henley Royal Regatta

In much of my personal work – call this street photography or, by any other moniker you may care to choose – I don’t always go out with any real intention to shoot something specific or, to look for a particular image or, to capture the sense of something in particular or anything for that matter. More often than not, I shoot what I find and more often than not, this is on the turn – as in what is there in the moment. This is that part of my photography that I really enjoy – just finding an “unscripted moment”. Bang and you’ve got it.

This is not like “hunting”, as on an occasion where one goes out to do something with intent – be this in shooting as in going out to shoot fowl or game. Or, may be fishing, this with the intent of landing something, whether its for sport or for the plate. No, while I’m out “sallying forth” it’s a moment, that moment, I hope to capture. Doesn’t matter how it is defined. It’s something that happens. In that moment, I may be fortunate enough to have framed it right. On other occasions, I may be fortunate enough to have it play out in front of the camera. Who knows? I don’t often now until it happens.

For some, my approach to photography may be a little too “passive” – as in the whole passive-aggressive thing. But then, hey, this is what makes me who I am and what I do. Well, at least in this current context and perhaps in present terms of what I’m doing with my photography and the manner in which I approach it – past and present.

That said, this image is another of those “happenings”. At the time this image was taken, I was actually living in Henley. In this, I was thus familiar with the immediate environment – as in taking regular walks along the tow path following the river. I was also familiar with the event having attended several regattas prior to this occasion.

In taking this particular image, it was more of a happy coincidence than much else. After having had lunch in the members’ enclosure, I decided to take a walk along the tow path to see what was happening elsewhere. I knew there was a paddock further up river and that this was likely to be full of spectators and revelers. Also further up stream was a traditional steam fare with its merry go rounds, stalls and shies. Both were likely to present photo opportunities which they eventually did.

While there was no real intent in going out to shoot anything, I was curious and I was prepared – as in being ready for eventualities and possibilities. I had with me a Leica M4-P, several lenses and pocketful of film and off I went.

Some way up the path I came across this scene. Saw what I saw and pulled one or two frames and quietly moved on. While this wasn’t quite what I was looking for, I didn’t want to be the cause of any distraction amongst the subjects of this image. This was the way it was then. Shooting film, there’s no immediate feed back. So, I didn’t really know what I had “in the can”, so to speak. As in, what I had photographed in that moment. I knew I had something – as seen and envisaged through the viewfinder but that was it. The rest had to wait.

To detract a little, this is what I always enjoyed about photography. The joy wasn’t so much in the taking of the picture as it was in seeing the results at a later date. I don’t come to anywhere close to this sort of joy when shooting digital. Shooting digital as I do now, this is something that is often fraught with anxiety – this in getting wrapped up with its immediacy and often forsaking the moment or moment’s in which the image or images were taken. With this particular image, I really relished the moment when I saw what I had captured.

In shooting the image, I wasn’t altogether sure what I had. I knew I had a good shot but wasn’t sure if everything was there. After processing the film, looking at the contact sheet and then pulling up an initial print, I really felt vindicated. It was one of those “Yes” moments – something I rarely get with digital.

And yes, this was one of those “Yes” moments. For me, this captured the essence of Henley. To me it doesn’t matter about not seeing the faces. I mean, I didn’t and still don’t know who these people are. They were there and in the moment this picture was taken. That was all that matter then as it does now. Private or not, it doesn’t really matter now, does it?

Had I shot digital I’m sure I would have had a different sort of image. The presence of such a camera and the noise it makes would have seen to that. Also and in the immediacy of the medium, I may have ended up having a different sort of relationship with the subjects in a similar sort of situation – as in approaching them to show the image and to possibly share the moment. And, in doing so, may be sharing contact information, getting names and the like. Horses for courses, as they say.

Either way, I now have this image. It epitomises for me not only just that moment but what the Henley Royal Regatta was and will always be about – the river, rowing, blazers, boaters (or bashers) and something of a symbol of the English at leisure.

This was that moment and, for me, this picture still tells the story. Well, this as I see it now and the way I saw it then.

More images from whence this image is derived can be found here in this collection – This England

The basic remit of this, The Lost Years Project, is to raise funds to bring this image together with its associated body of work and other related photography done between 1976 to around 1994 together, to digitise the negatives from which these images are derived and then, to create various products such as prints, print portfolios and books featuring this photography. There is a wealth of photography here that should find its way into the public realm – one way or the other. The photo galleries and PDF eBooks I have on offer here are but a small token of this effort. There’s a lot more from where all this came.

About Rogan Coles

With over four decades of professional working experience in the field, Rogan produces images that are telling and compelling. His expertise in corporate branding and architectural photography has earned him a reputation as an accomplished professional in these fields. On the flipside – Rogan’s passion is social documentary photography and visual storytelling. As a visual storyteller, Rogan brings his own unique perspective to each of his projects, capturing the essence of the story being told. Rogan has worked extensively on architectural, corporate and editorial assignments across Asia, in the UK, Canada and across southern Africa.


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TECHNICAL NOTES: This image was taken using a Leica M4-P and a LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 lens. The film used was likely to have been Ilford HP5 and developed in Ilford’s Ilfotec HC, a black and white film developer.
This article was originally written and published on January 24, 2011 on a predecessor to this website and uploaded here on 12 June, 2018.


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