We last caught up with photographer Jack Kenyon way back in 2019, after he’d captured the spectacle of Birmingham’s Supreme Cat Show. Now, continuing his exploration of Britain’s most niche competitions, Jack has photographed two of the UK’s most prestigious giant vegetable growers. Firstly, Peter Glazebrook, a Nottinghamshire grower who holds world records for the heaviest cauliflower, potato and onion as well as the longest parsnip and the longest beetroot (at a whopping 21 feet long). And secondly, Ian Neale, Peter’s giant vegetable-growing rival, who has not only grown a 66.6lb cabbage and a 9.5lb carrot, but got personally invited to meet Snoop Dogg, who congratulated Ian on his proud achievements.
“In early June I’d reached out to Peter, and spent time making pictures of him tending to his freshly planted vegetables in scorching sunshine,” Jack tells us. “Afterwards, he recommended I meet his nemesis, the wonderful Ian Neale,” who the London-based photographer visited during the UK’s heatwave in June. “Each considered an international titan in their field, they were wonderfully generous with their time,” he recalls, “treating me to fish finger lunches and endless cups of tea.” Throughout these burgeoning friendships, Jack documented the pairs mammoth vegetable’s growth, well into mid-September when they were dug up in time of the Autumn Three Counties show. “It’s widely considered the pinnacle of giant vegetable competitions,” Jack says, “it was exciting to see them there, collecting their rosettes, after almost twelve months of hard gardening.”
Peter and Ian’s rigour and determination are perfectly captured across Jack’s series, building on – and ultimately epitomising – his joyous, vibrant style. “Being eccentric and visually quirky, the world of giant vegetable growing seemed like the perfect fit,” he says.
Though one of the greatest challenges was maintaining a level of aesthetic consistency, with the series being shot over vastly different seasons and weather conditions. “With our unpredictable weather I was a bit worried their seeds might fail to flourish,” Jack says, “I was also anxious that making pictures in these different weather conditions might make the project feel a bit disjointed.” However, due to Ian and Peter’s expertise, this was far from the case. “Fortunately, they somehow navigated the heatwaves and downpours to grow some herculean produce,” Jack says, “and, to my surprise, I think the pictures also benefited from the erratic English weather.”
Looking back on his 2023, Jack found photographic freedom in the slow, relatively-repetitive nature of gardening. “When the show came around, I’d become friends with Ian and Peter,” Jack recalls, “so it was easy to pull them aside for more formal portraits,” alongside capturing more casual scenes of vegetable admirers. “People were so engrossed with the collosal nature of the vegetables,” he adds, “it was fairly simple to compose these more documentary pictures in a way that I think fits with the earlier work,” as well as his overall documentary style. “I’ve spent years making pictures locally, capturing the quirks of Englishness,” he concludes, “but I’m excited to experiment and take the same approach abroad,” looking to document a camel festival in India across the final months of 2023.
GalleryJack Kenyon: Titans of Giant Vegetables (Copyright © Jack Kenyon, 2023)
Jack Kenyon: Titans of Giant Vegetables (Copyright © Jack Kenyon, 2023)
About the Author
Hailing from the West Midlands, and having originally joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020, Harry is a freelance writer and designer – running his own independent practice, as well as being one-half of the Studio Ground Floor.