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Conor Beary: Swan Upping

Work / Photography

Conor Beary photographs “swan census” (and Martin Parr, on the sly)

Conor’s a man of tradition, albeit those very strange, very British traditions that so many photographers find irresistible. The last time we featured his work, he had been catching up with the good people of the brilliantly named West Country town of Ottery St Mary, who have a penchant for setting fire to barrels full of tar. Now, he’s turned his attention to the less pyrotechnic but just as odd tradition of Swan Upping, the ceremony of checking and counting the Queen’s swans along the Thames. As many are aware, not only can swans break a man’s arm simply by looking at it (unverified), they are also all the property of the Queen.

“I’m interested in British culture and our eccentricities,” says Conor. “Over the past few months I’ve been looking at how we spend our time off enjoying ourselves, I’m also interested in the traditions and ceremonies that we go through and what they say about our identity.” He explains that the Swan Upping tradition, which dates back to the 12th Century, is “basically a swan census,” and a hell of a lot more work than he’d anticipated.

“I was expecting the day to be a leisurely stroll along the Thames but it turns out the old boys have some pace on them, so because I failed to get a pass for the press boat I had to run along side from Sunbury to Eton, which if you don’t know the Thames is a fair stretch,” he says. “I also met Martin Parr whilst shooting which was really cool as he’s a bit of a hero to me, quite a daunting person to be standing next to when trying to shoot, when your bookshelf contains half of his books. I felt a bit like I was bench pressing next to Shaq, but he was a lovely guy. I tried not to get in his way.”

The images will be part of a book called High Days and Holidays, which Conor hopes will be out next year.

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Conor Beary: Swan Upping

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Conor Beary: Swan Upping

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Conor Beary: Swan Upping

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Conor Beary: Swan Upping

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Conor Beary: Swan Upping

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Conor Beary: Swan Upping