In East Anglia, photographer Harry Hall documents the niche world of Fen Skating
Skating on perfectly frozen ice has become a sport and hobby for the locals, and Harry's photographs display the palpable warmth within the community.
- Joey Levenson
- 9 March 2023
You’d be forgiven if you weren’t familiar with the concept of Fen Skating, but thankfully, London-based photographer Harry Hall has a knack for unearthing left-field hobbies and pursuits. “I’m always keeping an eye out for them, but I couldn’t have been further from the Fens when I first read about this one,” Harry tells It’s Nice That. Fen Skating, broadly speaking, is an activity which takes place on frozen and shallowly flooded Fenland in East Anglia. Harry first came across the hobby when he saw a drone shot of the activities taking place via Twitter. “A small but dedicated online community led me to some really helpful insights and through them I was able to find out where the Fen skating hotspots were,” he explains. “It seemed serene and calm, and everybody who had taken to the Fens spoke about it with such joy and I found that infectious.”
Taking to the Fens himself, Harry wanted to capture the people who participated in the hobby before anything else. For him, it was about basking them in the natural beautiful light of the land and reflecting their character – rather than simply documenting the skating itself. “I set temperature alerts for obscure corners of East Anglia and was constantly pestering the community asking when they thought they’d next be out,” Harry says on how he tracked down the right time to go to the Fens. For the skating to take place, the land had to be on ice that was steady enough to hold their weight, so it became largely a waiting game. After studying the light of the area, the time arose for Harry to go and snap the skating activity at perfect temperature. “Thankfully, the skaters were really receptive of the camera and my interest and we talked at length,” Harry says. Using his Leica Q with a fixed wide lens, the pictures are gorgeous and expansive (while still intimate), inviting the viewer to almost interact with the subjects of each photo.
Upon embarking on the project, Harry became completely immersed in the Fens subculture. “I’d love for this work to be used to reflect on it in the future and introduce new generations to the sport,” the photographer explains. “People have been skating on the Fens since the medieval period, metal blades were only introduced in the 17th Century and before this old animal bones were sharpened and attached to boots.” Additionally, he found that only a handful of skating days were possible over the last few years due to changing weather conditions, and consequently all the locals cherish the activity as a sacred tradition. “Everyone on the ice shared the same pride for it being something so close to home,” he says. “There is really nothing like this.”
Overall, Harry’s series is a stripped back and simple pursuit in a time of over-saturated information overload and complex issues swarming the zeitgeist. “I just hope new viewers find it heart-warming, because it’s essentially a series of photos of people enjoying themselves in the cold.” But the key takeaway for Harry came from Richard, a participant of the skating and community-member in his 70’s. “He told me: ‘Fen skating is like life, enjoy it while you can’.”
GalleryHarry Hall: Fen Skaters (Copyright © Harry Hall, 2023)
Harry Hall: Fen Skaters (Copyright © Harry Hall, 2023)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.