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The Burryman, 2011. Copyright Drew Farrell

The Burryman – Drew Farrell, 2011

1 January 2015

This is ‘The Burryman’. The origins of his annual procession through the town of Queensferry, near Edinburgh are lost in antiquity although we do know the tradition has remained largely unaltered since the last Battle of Falkirk in 1746.

Burryman Day is part of the annual Ferry Fair which occurs on the second Friday of August. In the lead up to the day the participant collects the sticky ‘burrs’ from a burdon plant that make up his unique outfit. It takes ten thousand or more spiky seed pods to cover him head to toe. Dressing takes place at The Stag’s Head pub on Queensferry High Street. When he’s ready the Burryman sets out on a ten or eleven hour walk around the town during which he is greeted with chants of “hip, hip hooray it’s the Burryman Day”.

The nature of the outfit gives the Burryman a very distinct gait and he must extend his arms almost ninety degrees to his body, which makes it a grueling and extremely uncomfortable experience. He uses two poles to rest his arms and friends stay with him throughout to help him with his tour.

I have seen a few Burryman processions where a glass of whisky sipped through a straw is never far away, as members of the community, friends and family encourage this strange character to move among them, through their streets and into pubs. The classic picture Burryman Drinking Whisky Through a Straw taken by Homer Sykes in the early 1970s shows this moment perfectly.

Whether the Burryman is catching evil spirits on his ‘burrs’ or represents fertility who can really say? Some suggest he may be a scapegoat. But Burryman Day remains a tradition and it’s a great honour to be chosen for the role, and some repeat the feat year after year. This man had completed twelve years as the Burryman. The previous incumbent became a walking bush one day a year for twenty-five years.

I often return to photograph the Burryman. The custom is a mixture of folklore, theatre, people and portraits – all the subjects I love.

I’ve had a number of Burryman images published but I was particularly pleased with this one which I manipulated in Photoshop. So it’s not strictly an editorial photograph but it was accepted for the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy Exhibition on The Mound, Edinburgh just a couple of months after I took the picture.

Drew Farrell has been a regular contributor to UK editorial pages shooting a wide range of subjects including news, business, sports and features. Drew has also worked alongside arts organisations like Scottish Ballet – including tours to China and France; Scottish Opera, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the National Youth Choir of Scotland as well as commissions from the Edinburgh International Festival, the RSNO and various theatre companies.

In the 2011, he undertook a mini residency with the National Theatre of Scotland. In 2014 he returned for a second time to cover the SXSW Festival in Austin Texas for Creative Scotland generating valuable coverage in both stills and video that was used in printed and online media. Drew has covered all the major UK music festivals for NME and was the official photographer for T in the Park in its early years. He has also covered the Cannes Film Festival for the last six years.

In September 2014 Drew and fellow photographer John Linton coordinated an exhibition of the work of 35 editorial photographers on the theme of ‘Identity’ which was staged against the backdrop of The Scottish Referendum vote.

See more work by Drew Farrell

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