Jacob John Harmer’s Lost Ones captures the volatile period between adolescence and adulthood

In a heartbreaking short film and beautiful photobook, the director depicts the uncertainty and wistfulness of that universal transition.

23 September 2021


Lost Ones started off as a book, in which filmmaker and photographer Jacob John Harmer set out to document teenagers’ coming of age, and what he calls the “volatile” period between leaving school and embarking on adulthood. Shot over three summers, Jacob recorded his subjects each turning 18, interviewing them about their experiences. It was a project he’d had in the back of his mind for a while, inspired by his own upbringing. “I can remember feeling lost at that age,” he tells It’s Nice That. “Lost in the uncertainty and magnitude of the decisions that lay ahead, yet also lost in a new and exciting world of hedonism and liberation from the regimented confines of the school system.” While it’s turbulent for most, this time is “our most formative and often memorable,” Jacob says, perhaps why it is infinitely fascinating to creatives, and relatable to audiences.

The making of Lost Ones was serendipitous. Jacob met the protagonist of the book and film, Alfie, while visiting his own parents back home in Hastings, walking in an area he used to hang out with his friends “once upon a time”. Jacob and Alfie bonded, and “the journey began,” Jacob describes, with Alfie introducing him to his friends, and Jacob finding subjects for his long-pondered project. He photographed the group, trying to encapsulate “this precious and fleeting time,” he explains. “Witnessing their development during that period was so dramatic to me, both physically and mentally. I wanted the book to showcase this progression sequentially, to try and capture what it felt like to be young.”

Despite his personal affinity with the project, Jacob explains approached the creative process similarly to his other countless documentary series', immersing himself in their world and gaining the trust of his subjects. “Through periodic visits my subjects’ bravado began to ease and they began to accept me more as like one of their gang.” As such, the filmmaker and photographer describes relaying some of their “rawness and truth” in the images, while also conjuring the “dreaminess of that intoxicating period of when the possibilities can either seem endless, or dead-end”. 

He also plans to revisit them in ten years time to produce a “somewhat ironically titled” follow-up titled Found Ones, to see how they’re getting on. “I’d like for them to sit as companion pieces, side by side on the bookshelf, identical in design, yet I foresee – worlds apart in content.”


Jacob John Harmer: Lost Ones book (Copyright © Jacob John Harmer, 2021)

Meanwhile the Lost Ones short film, which It’s Nice That is premiering online today after a successful festival run, stars the same protagonists in a fictional narrative, though with similar themes. In the film, we see Alfie and his friend tussle with big life decisions and the draw of staying in their comfort zones, before a tragic event spotlights the real transience of life itself. Written by Jacob, drawn from his own life experiences, it all came together when first meeting Alfie and noting how the styles of clothes and music seemed to have come full circle since he was their age. “The cast were all so deeply immersed in the culture of the late 1990s/early 2000s, listening to the same music – Ram records, DJ Hype – and sourcing what was now vintage clothes from that same era,” Jacob says. “It was uncanny that Alfie was a DJ, as I once was, and actually wears my Evisu clown-face denim jacket that I had worn on those same seaside streets and underground clubs all that time before. That jacket suddenly felt a perfect emblem for his character and although a bit dusty it was still in mint condition after sitting in my parents’ loft for nearly two decades.”

While Alfie had some acting experience, the rest of the cast were first-time actors, so Jacob worked with them to adlib and adapt the script to their turns of phrases. As such, the film feels absorbing and heart-wrenchingly real. “Throughout my body of work I’m very interested in exploring the idea of legacy,” Jacob concludes, “of passing the baton from one generation to the next. I have always been in awe of how you can amalgamate so many different facets of time so fluently in cinema.”

Lost Ones the photobook was designed by Lucas Gabellini-Fava, and is available in a run of 200 signed and numbered editions via Jacob’s website.

GalleryJacob John Harmer: Lost Ones book (Copyright © Jacob John Harmer, 2021)

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Jacob John Harmer: Lost Ones book (Copyright © Jacob John Harmer, 2021)

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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