Style & Grooming

Photographer Ryan Skelton Debuts First Book

The young image-maker presents his first publication, Land Swallow – An Erotic Pilgrimage into England’s Womb

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This evening, 23-year-old photographer and Central Saint Martins student Ryan Skelton – brother of the designer John Alexander Skelton – is launching a book called Land Swallow – An Erotic Pilgrimage into England’s Womb. Comprising self portraits, in addition to dance performances captured in a video created in collaboration with filmmaker Saskia Dixie, the project was inspired, says Skelton, by “a quote from Sally Potter’s film adaption of Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando – the scene of the quote shows Tilda Swinton dramatically running in full victorian attire over a misty winter landscape, falling onto grass and proclaiming ‘Nature, Nature, I’m your bride, take me!’”

Choosing to shoot in the cinematic landscapes of his home country, Yorkshire, Skelton photographed images for the book over the course of a year, enlisting a designer to create a costume for him for each month. As well as these designers, and Dixie, Skelton’s father turned out to be a crucial – if surprising – component to the creation of this book, not only ferrying him to and from shoot locations, but acting as photography assistant too. This, Skelton says, ended up being one of the most rewarding parts of the whole project: “It was interesting to expose my father (very directly!) to performance art, a practice which I think he would otherwise look into or be curious about. It was certainly an adventure for me to ‘perform’ in front of both the camera and him.”

Here, alongside an exclusive preview, Skelton tells us more about Land Swallow and the making of this intriguing book.

“I wanted to do a year-long project, so I could photograph the full range of seasons and weather that is the nature of England. But instead of just shooting landscape photography, I wanted to incorporate my practice of self portraiture on analogue film, with the idea of giving up my sexuality and giving it back to the earth.

“I also wanted to return to my roots as a dancer through my collaboration with Saskia. I was never trained professionally, but have always had a passion for improvisation and rhythm when it comes to movement. I started to research into photography of the different styles of expressionist dance – from the likes of Mary Wigman, Pina Bausch and Hijikata Tatsumi, for example – and was compelled by how, when a dancer is photographed, a dancer's relationship is always more intimate with their body, than with the camera. Coincidently Saskia used to be a trained ballet dancer until she obtained a leg accident that forced her reluctantly to stop at 18 – so it was interesting how we both come from dance backgrounds but in a highly oppositional way. The main premise was for us to create short films that film me performing and interacting intimately with nature as my soulmate, lover, friend and foe.

“In order to convey this year’s journey I decided to commission 12 different designers that I knew extremely personally beforehand, to create for me a costume for each month starting from the project's birth date of June 2017.

“I selected a month for each designer that I felt that the season and weather of that chosen month would be most fitting for the personality of the designer. Another part of the project was instead of creating a portrait of each designer involved, I used the costume made for me to try and create a portrait of my perception of my relationship to each designer, but though only shooting myself in nature. I have also written poetry for each month that also explores my view on the personality of each of the designers involved.”