Published February 13, 2019
Photos by Will Hartley, 2018 Flash Forward Winner
LBR. Five words to describe how you see Spring Break?
WH. Promiscuous, youthful, vibrant, carefree, intoxicated
LBR. What compelled you, an English photographer and skateboard aficionado, to cross the Atlantic to photograph the American tradition?
WH. I have always loved American culture and wanted to make a project over there. I watched Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and saw an opportunity for a great photography project. Photographically, it is a very visual youth culture story that has so many layers to it. I found it fascinating as we don’t have a yearly ritual like this in the UK. I headed to Cancun in Mexico for the first trip in 2017, Miami was the following year and I will be on my third trip to a different Spring Break destination to continue the story in March this year.
LBR. How did what you experienced measure up to your expectations?
WH. I did a fair amount of research before going, but overall it definitely went beyond my expectations. The more places I research about Spring Break the better it gets. The access can be hard. On my first day shooting one of the most popular Spring Break parties in Cancun, the security wanted to kick me out for taking pictures. Watching youtube videos of Spring Break online everything seems pretty free and relaxed, but it was way more controlled than I had expected. However, the following year in Miami there was a free party every day down on South Beach, which was perfect for pictures.
LBR. When photographing people who are letting loose, shedding some of their inhibitions, what consideration do you have for how they’re represented and how that might not match their otherwise everyday persona?
WH. There are certain images that don’t make the edit, I want to show people letting loose, but I don’t want to show someone in a vulgar way or to make shocking images. I want them to be fun. I try to explain to as many people as possible that I’m doing a project about Spring Break. Most of the time they are very open and want to be part of it. I’ll give them my Instagram so we can connect later down the line. It’s not always possible of course and I just photograph the chaos in front of me, but it is important to me that people aren’t represented in a bad light.
LBR. What was your most memorable moment during Spring Break festivities?
WH. On my last day in Cancun, there was a party and a man dive-bombed into the centre of a pool whilst wearing a Trump mask. As he got out, security chased him around the party and couldn’t catch up with him. People were chanting and going wild. Not the craziest thing I witnessed but it was a comical moment that put a smile on my face.
Born in 1986, Will Hartley grew up in North Devon. He studied documentary photography at Newport University in Wales. He enjoys making projects about places and people, with a strong interest in youth culture and lifestyle. Moving to London in 2013 he began assisting photographers such as Olly Burn, Dan Burn-Forti, Spencer Murphy and Samuel Hicks. He now shoots commercially for himself working with a range of brands and agencies. He has a studio in Limehouse Art Foundation, Bow, and joined the LPA Roster in 2017.
Laurence Butet-Roch, a member of the Boreal Collective and Muse Projects, is a freelance writer, photo editor, photographer and educator based in Toronto, Canada committed to encouraging critical visual thinking. Her words have appeared in the British Journal of Photography, The New York Times Lens Blog, TIME Lightbox, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Polka Magazine, PhotoLife, BlackFlash and Point of View. She is the editor of Flash Forward Flash Back.