Spectating the Spectators at the Polo Gold Cup: Midhurst, West Sussex

The Gold Cup of the British Open Polo Championship draws punters to West Sussex’s Cowdray Park each year. One photographer turns her lens from the sport to its spectators as they parade their best hats and picnic spreads.

Name: Hannah Burton

Hometown: Midhurst, West Sussex

Instagram: @___hannahburton

Shoot location: King Power Gold Cup Final of the British Open Polo Championship in Cowdray Park, Midhurst

Camera: Hasselblad 500C/M

Describe your photography style in three words. Collaborative. Theatrical. Emotive.

What's the story behind the photographs?

I grew up in Midhurst, the town that plays host to the Gold Cup every summer in Cowdray Park Polo Club. The event draws locals, tourists and even royalty - a flurry of polo punters in an otherwise sleepy town.

As a child, I would find a way to break in (this was a sort of rite of passage for me and my mates). I was fascinated by the spectators who put on as much of a show as the polo players themselves, parading their social status with the best hat or picnic. I first focused my camera on the polo spectators in 2016, hoping to capture that interplay between looking at the game and looking at one another and then by looking at my camera, they are somehow confronted by their performativity.

This year, of course, the Gold Cup was cancelled due to Covid, and I've missed being able to document all these people and their idiosyncrasies.

Any less than postcard-worthy moments?

There was this one year when I snuck into the members' tent via the bins at the back and was greeted with champagne and canapés. Another year, a streaker ran across the playing field at half time - it was hilarious but also devastating to not have had my camera ready to capture it.

Where would you most like to shoot and why?

For a while now, I've been thinking about photographing The Villages, one of Florida's retirement communities. It's a huge area designed with the ease and comfort of elderly residents in mind. The architecture fascinates me and I'd be keen to meet some of the characters it attracts.

Where are you travelling to next?

Hopefully, Ireland.

What photography kit is in your SUITCASE?

I like to keep it as minimal as possible. Too many cameras can clog up the creative flow of shooting, especially in new places. I'd pack lots of 120 Kodak Portra film, my Hasselblad, a reflector, a compact tripod, light meter and maybe my 35mm Minolta X-700 for more personal snaps.