What do you think of when you think of England? Most people would answer the Queen, the Gherkin building in central London, red double-decker buses, tea, or fish-and-chips. It's easy to forget that England has a rich agricultural heritage, and a strong tradition of alternative thinking.

It's these two aspects of England that Venetia Dearden explores in her elegiac photobook, Somerset Stories: Fivepenny Dreams. Her focus is on tough, vanishing ways of life: those of subsistence farmers who live hand-to-mouth, and travelling communities who set up camp wherever there is work. Her photographs feel like they were taken one evening at the end of a long, hot summer: they are tactile, radiant, frank, but warm.

Her subjects are bullish about their chances: "we're free range people!" and many of Dearden's photographs have a timeless, fairytale quality. Few children nowadays get to grow up like those in the book: barefoot, surrounded by nature, mud, chickens and pigs, clambering over fences, messing about with berries, baking biscuits and living in caravans. From the outside, it looks idyllic. But the fragility of their lives is also evident — it's hard not to wonder what kind of world these newborn babies, cradled in the outdoors, will grow up in.

A beautiful photobook, and one to treasure.

Zoë Fargher

Somerset Stories - Fivepenny Dreams
by Venetia Dearden
Hardcover: 128 pages
28.5 x 24.4 cm
Publisher: Kehrer
ISBN: 978-3-86828-014-2
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