Read Time 9 minutes

George Hutton’s Portrait of Brew

There is something quintessentially British about the people and places George Hutton photographs, whether it’s goths in their pastiche Victoriana eating chips by grey harbour sides or rural types herding sheep into pens at an agricultural fair. George makes life on Plague Island look not-so-bad after all.

Now, it’s tea. Portrait of Brew is George’s newest personal project, an ongoing series of cosy, intimate portraits of the nation’s tea-drinkers. It’s a natural subject choice for the boy from Yorkshire.

We met at Norman’s Cafe in North London for a cuppa and a chat [the ideal combo]. Dash of milk, no sugar for either.

I wanted to ask you about the aesthetic of Britishness and whether that’s something you’re preoccupied with?

Yeah I’d say so, a lot of my work is very Northern-based, for a start. I take a lot of pictures back at home in Whitby, trying to get that quintessential British feel of a seaside town, very touristy. The Portrait of Brew project really came about from wanting to take portraits of people, but I’m a big tea drinker anyway.

One of your portraits is of Jamie Hawkesworth, is he someone you work with? I can see his colour palette and lighting style in your work sometimes.

I remember when I first started working with Jamie I was so obsessed with his photography and wanted my work to be just like his. But then as you start working with different people you pick up things from them too. Like Sam [Rock], his work is so like, the other way, from Jamie’s. A whole different way of working.

Portrait of Brew | George Hutton | Darklight Digital

But they are connected by a thread somehow, as artists, don’t you think? I think it comes back to that Britishness thing again. That theme can be so hackneyed and caricatured and it’s not easy to describe necessarily, but you know it when you see it.

Yeah both of them do that really well, in very different ways. Jamie’s British Isles book I helped work on actually. Then Sam gave me a different view of the same subject.

Like in your images of British country fairs. Tell me about that.

I did that last year and the season is coming up again – I’ll go home for August to go around the country fairs. Growing up with them I never thought they were that strange. The longest thistle competition. Biggest carrots. Egg decorating. It is actually quite strange but you don’t realise that until you leave and come to London or whatever. So then I thought I’d go back and capture it.

Village Shows | George Hutton | Darklight Digital
Village Shows | George Hutton | Darklight Digital
Village Shows | George Hutton | Darklight Digital
Village Shows | George Hutton | Darklight Digital

Tell me about the community.

Being from Whitby, everyone knows everyone, and these agricultural fairs bring them all together. I know these fairs aren’t unique to Whitby but for some reason when you go to them it does just feel VERY Whitby.

What’s the typical Whitby character?

So many … a middle-aged farmer, then the townspeople … fishing has died out though which is a shame.

Cattle Mart | George Hutton | Darklight Digital

How do they respond to you coming in with your camera?

Well I tell them I’m from just down the road and don’t mention that I live in London. If you said that they’d switch off! They’re much more receptive if you’re a local.

I’ve been photographing in some cattle markets as well and I half-knew the person running it which made it easier to get in as they can be quite wary of cameras in case you’re an animal rights activist. But you just need to talk to people and then you become part of the crowd.

Cattle Mart | George Hutton | Darklight Digital

Returning to the tea project then … you’ve got a few well know photography faces in there but tell me about some of the other people.

My nan and grandad, sister, the whole family, friends from up home and down here. The point isn’t really to photograph the big people, that just happened because I work with them, which is really nice. But I also have people asking to be involved, which makes the project so lovely to do. If there’s someone I haven’t seen in ages I can go and have a cup of tea and take some pics and catch up. There’s nobody I don’t know but there are some people I am less close to.

Portrait of Brew | George Hutton | Darklight Digital
Portrait of Brew | George Hutton | Darklight Digital
Portrait of Brew | George Hutton | Darklight Digital
Portrait of Brew | George Hutton | Darklight Digital

How do you foster the sense of intimacy with those ones? Putting people at ease behind a camera is not an easy task.

That’s what the tea does.

Natural icebreaker.

Yep! And I tend to shoot in their places not mine. So my friend Nick, I took his portrait in this quarry he works in. Even if you’re at work you have your tea in a moment of relaxation, or at home you drink your cuppa in a comfy chair and that’s where we’d take the picture, so there is an association of relaxation which puts people at ease.

I love that there is one guy that has a Pukka herbal tea. Everyone else is Yorkshire tea.

Ha yep. Barney. Had to be awkward about it. He’s such a character. And we had to get the shot on the roof of his house. I’d only do it for Barney.

I tried to tea stain the cardboard with the Pukka teabag and it just came out green. Really messes up the grid.

Portrait of Brew | George Hutton | Darklight Digital

That tea staining gives me such a pang of nostalgia for British primary school. It’s such a nice detail. Tell me about the process of getting that art direction right?

At first I thought I’d do some kind of Pantone-reference thing, the different shades of how everyone takes their tea. Then I was going to do a plain white card but it didn’t feel right. Too clean. But tea staining just felt like it worked perfectly. The project exists on Instagram but also as these physical things I’ve made, proper cut-and-stick collage. I thought it would look too flat just copied into Photoshop, so I have the images properly printed then the subjects handwrite the notes, which makes it so personal.

What artists are you into?

There’s a book called In love with photography by Volker Hinz which is all portraits of photographers: a real inspiration for the style of photography I wanted to capture people in for the Portrait of Brew project … some more formal and posed, some off-guard moments.

A guy I know from back home called Ian Macdonald who takes very industrial landscape photos around Teeside, I remember always looking at his photos.

Obviously Jamie.

And … Nigel Shafran, documentary style with a fashion element. I’d love to do more fashion stuff. That’s what I studied at uni [Fashion Communication & Promotion at Central Saint Martins].

What’s a dream project or commission?

Commission would be something up in Whitby as it’s so close to my heart. But also I’d love to go to Iceland or the Faroe Islands, integrate into a small community and see all the landscapes. God, that would be great, wouldn’t it?


All images courtesy of George Hutton.

Follow George on Instagram here, and discover more from Portrait of Brew here.


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