I was in my final year at Exeter College of Art (now part of Plymouth University) studying Photography and Graphic Design and I became interested in documenting a large organisation and the idea of photographing life in a boarding school came up. As a product of the modern British comprehensive system that seemed to be based on ‘averages’ I was intrigued by what life in a boarding school could be like. Prior to going to art college I had never really met anyone who had been privately educated.


I approached John Rees the Head Master of Blundell’s, Devon’s oldest public school, and amazingly he said I could have full access to the school and I could photograph anybody I came across, as long as they didn’t object, and photograph anything I found. He said there was nothing in Blundell’s that he was embarrassed about. It was an amazing amount of trust to place in a young art student and I was determined to portray as honest a portrait of life at the school as I could.


A school the size of Blundell’s requires a complex support structure and the school is one of the major employers in Tiverton. I wanted to try and show all aspects of life at the School in a sense from the ground up. It was important to me to photograph everybody I met with the same amount of dignity whether it was the Head Boy or a cleaner. I became fascinated with how the boarders would decorate and personalise their rooms with an amazing range of posters and collected paraphernalia.


For my degree show I printed a selection of twenty or so images and I showed these and my contact prints to John Rees. He felt that I had captured something of the essence of Blundell’s and commissioned me to return in the Autumn, once I had graduated, to take some additional images for a new prospectus. I have now had Blundell’s as a client for thirty years, photographing and designing most of the School’s promotional material.


Over the years I have worked with five different Heads and seen a number of major changes at the school; the decision to go fully co-educational in 1993, followed by the opening of the Junior department and then the Prep School.  The school continues to adapt with the times -  but at the core the same strengths and values I found in 1986 are still there.


A few years ago I started archiving my negatives and realised what I had got was quite unique. To be given unconditional access ‘behind the scenes’ in any kind of organisation probably wouldn’t happen today -  but because of the freedom I was given I feel I was able to produce something quite special. It is an historical record of life in a boarding school in the early stages of modernisation. Looking at the pictures is almost like entering a time machine and going back three decades to the mid-eighties with the associated Samantha Fox posters!



Size: 225 x 225mm
Cloth covered hardback with dust jacket
124 pages, printed on 170gsm silk fine-art
FSC approved paper
Printed in South West England

Signed first edition limited to 500 copies
24 full-colour and 81 duotone images

Essays by Alistair Deighton-Gibson
& Andrew Nadolski

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