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The Common Ridings in the Scottish Borders, photographed by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert -the Three Brethen Cairns Summit

1 October 2015

Royal Burgh Standard Bearer Martin Rodgerson and his Burleymen attendants, arrive at the Three Brethren cairns summit, to check the boundaries of the lands, during the Common Riding festivities in Selkirk, Scotland, Friday 14th June 2013.

Royal Burgh Standard Bearer Martin Rodgerson and his Burleymen attendants, arrive at the Three Brethren cairns summit, to check the boundaries of the lands, during the Common Riding festivities in Selkirk, Scotland, Friday 14th June 2013.

Over the past few summers I’ve photographed the Common Riding festivals of the Scottish Borders, taking place from Annan to Selkirk, Hawick To Galashiels, and right across the Scottish Border lands, meeting and photographing the people who participate in the traditions of these historic annual events.

I first photographed them in 2000, on my Leica’s in black and white, but life and I have moved on since then. In 2013, after living for a decade in Tokyo, I returned to Scotland and to the Common Riding festivals. I wanted to explore my country again, to feel the Scottish weather on my face, and importantly to take a further and deeper look at the festivals and the Borders area. I photographed all summer, all events at all hours, on my digital cameras, roaming free working without a commission but with a share of a grant that Document Scotland, a photography collective I had co-founded, had received from Creative Scotland.

Each of the festivals in the Border towns have similarities but are individual, with their own character and idiosyncrasies. Some commemorate battles of 500 years ago, others are more symbolic checks of the former common lands of the town or burgh. Some towns elect a young town male as ‘Cornet’, in the next town he’s elected ‘Braw Lad’, in another ‘Hunter’. All these are youths of upstanding character, and their elected female principals - the Cornet’s Lass, the Braw Lass – lead the festivities.

The title for my newly-published book of this work, 'Unsullied And Untarnished', comes from the speech when the town standard or flag is handed over at the start of the festivities, “I charge you to carry this flag aloft around the marches of our burgh lands…Take this flag from me, return it to me in the market square later today, unsullied and untarnished…” I was fascinated by the sense of history, the traditions stretching back through the eras, and at the same time, how in the undertaking of these traditions and rituals, bonds are fostered within the community, strengthening it as it looks forward into the future. The festivals are not branded, nor covered in advertising, nor particularly well promoted for tourism, although some are now on Twitter. These are local events, unsullied and untarnished, for local people.

But tourists and spectators are welcome, Scotland after all is a hospitable and welcoming place. I was never more aware of it than during the Selkirk Common Riding, the ‘Day of Days’. I had photographed in the town, rising in the early dawn, but the proceedings would soon galloped off on horseback away across the moors to the Three Brethern cairns summit, where the flag would be placed, songs sung, traditions followed. I would need a 4-wheel drive jeep and a damn good map. Down in the town I asked some people heading for their cars, “Is anyone going to the summit?”, “Sure” a burly big guy with his wee son answered, “jump in.” And with that the local forest ranger drove me across Selkirkshire’s stunning landscape, a view of many miles through the centuries and history receeding in the wing mirror, and through the open window in front of me a view across the present day of the Border lands.

Jeremy’s project, Unsullied And Untarnished, from which the above image is taken, is available to buy now as a book here with a foreword by Harry Benson CBE and accompanying essay by Alex Massie. Unsullied And Untarnished forms Jeremy's contribution to Document Scotland's major exhibition, The Ties That Bind, on now at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, until April 2016.

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert has worked in photography for editorial, corporate and NGO clients for 25years. His work has appeared in magazines such as Time, National Geographic, Italian Geo, Le Figaro, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, and many others. For over a decade he has been one of the principal photographers for Greenpeace International.

In recent years Jeremy was based in Japan, but missing the raw weather he relocated back to his home country of Scotland. His work has taken him to over 70 countries, as far flung as Antarctica and Outer Mongolia. His personal and commissioned work, for which he has been the recipient of photojournalism awards, has been widely published and exhibited in Europe and USA.

In 2012, along with Colin McPherson, Sophie Gerrard and Stephen McLaren, Jeremy co-founded the Document Scotland photography collective. Document Scotland aim to promote, produce, and to disseminate documentary photography work in and about Scotland, to an international audience. The Ties That Bind is their third major exhibition and they have also authored numerous publications, all available to view via their website: www.documentscotland.com

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert Photography

See more work by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

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