Arnhel de Serra’s photos are like the British equivalent of a good New Yorker cartoon: quirky and insightful.
His series on the U.K.’s agricultural shows — which are similar to county fairs here in the U.S. — gives viewers a curious peak into the eccentric events that have been part of the country’s heritage since the 1800s.
“My humor is not a harsh humor,” says de Serra of the work. “If you are willing to spend the time you can get photos that have quite a bit of depth to them.”
The events themselves exist primarily to promote different aspects of agricultural work, from animal breeding to the art of floral arranging. De Serra says he chose to focus on them because they’re an especially rich showcase for British character.
De Serra says he is a heavily influenced by the French filmmaker Jacques Tati who de Serra says was known for a kind of humor that was “very gentle but quite observational,” but he could also be compared to Martin Parr, another British photographer who has made a career out of documenting the quirks of English culture.
De Serra says it’s taken him a while to develop his style – he’s been shooting the project for seven years.
“It’s one thing to take documentary pictures, but to try and get a moment that is humorous and has an element of social commentary, that’s more tricky,” he says.
The photos have resonated with a British audience and a series of them will be included in the upcoming London Festival of Photography. De Serra is also trying to publish a book about the project.
Ultimately, de Serra says, he’d like the project to be exhibited at the agricultural shows themselves. He doesn’t intend for the photos to be exploitative and he hopes the community he’s photographed will receive them well.
“It would be great to encourage them to take a second look and maybe begin to see the shows through my eyes,” he says.