The new Gypsies

A parallel life


Blackpool contrast

The New Gypsies by Iain McKell is a stunning collection of photos taken over a decade, of NewAge Gypsies and other off-grid travellers.
The horse-drawn people are a loose-knit group of 800-1000 British, working class families living permanently in wagons spread across the country.  Their numbers swell to a further 3,000 or so part-timers who all converge on various festivals during the summer. They have no ID, because you do not need registration documents to drive a horse and cart. That is why they choose this way over buses and vans.  You can buy the UK Edition of The New Gypsies here. Their lives are not spent in a bucolic idyll meandering down country lanes; like gypsies, they eke out a living where they can. One camp is next to a roundabout off an A-road, sandwiched between two council estates.
This remarkable way of life has been charted over the years by the photographer Iain McKell, who stumbled across Delaney and a gang of horse-drawn travellers near Stonehenge after the summer solstice of 2001. “I had been told that I would find 300 or 400 New Age traveller buses at Stonehenge,” he recalls. “It was clearly still a strong subculture but, within that ragtag jumble of travellers, I found a small tribe, a newly formed hybrid that had evolved from the bus to the horse and wagon.
“After the motorised vehicles left, I had an urge to ask the horsedrawn travellers when they were leaving, but realised they weren’t. They had nowhere to go. No work, no parties to dash off to. They were living there and getting on with it quite well,” recalls McKell.
Since then, McKell has returned to photograph these new gypsies at festivals and park-ups along the A3. He has been beguiled by this group, who in one sense live in an anachronistic slow lane, making a living as blacksmiths and carpenters, but paradoxically, with their solar panels and minimal carbon footprint, hint at a simpler future.
Neither hippy idealists nor nihilistic outcasts, the horse-drawn travellers are principally working-class malcontents from the inner cities of Birmingham, Newcastle and London, looking for a quality of life they could never have achieved in their home towns.
Published by Prestel, priced £24.99. Iain McKell’s The New Gypsies exhibition at the Fashion Space Gallery, London College of Fashion, runs until May 28.

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