On visiting the famous summer solstice event at Stonehenge, London-based photographer Matt Badenoch discovered a sense of freedom and joy amongst the many revellers. Capturing the celebrations through the night and into the longest day of the year, his images paint a picture of hope.
Over 6,000 people gathered last month to watch the sunrise at the prehistoric monument on Wiltshire's Salisbury Plain. The stone circle is one of the UK's most famous landmarks and is sacred to many modern druids and pagans. It was the first time since the pandemic that people were allowed to gather for the annual event, which marks the longest day.
As such, the moment felt especially sacred, according to Matt, who was amongst them. "Beyond the picturesque photos of the sun rising over the ruins, I'd found little online about the experience of the celebrations which run through the night into the longest day of the year," he says. "So I knew little of what to expect, which was part of the appeal. The celebrations turned out to be a fascinating experience, attracting a wide range of characters, attending for their own reasons – from spiritual and religious to partying the night away."
It also happens to be the only time of the year that people are allowed to touch the stones, as a barrier is usually in place to protect them. "As the sun rises, it perfectly lines up with the entrance to the stone circle as rays of light hit the central moment," Matt continues. "It is believed that celebrations have taken place on this day every year for the past 5,000 years, which was a pretty amazing thing to be a part of. For many, the celebrations are a pilgrimage, and I met people who had travelled from several different countries, including the USA."
Amongst the crowd, Matt tells us there were many cheers when the sun rose, along with a few inevitable tears. People were also laughing and dancing, playing music and swirling in-between the ancient stones – not only celebrating their return to the site for the first time in two years but also acknowledging the new dawn, perhaps as a metaphor for a brighter future.
"I rarely feel more in the moment than when I'm shooting street; it allows me to obverse so much more and get lost in my curiosity. Afterwards, I find the photos a powerful means to share one's experience, celebrate the human condition and motivate curiosity in others. I certainly found this to be the case with the summer solstice at Stonehenge," he adds.
Matt studied Economics & International Development at university and, following graduation, secured a corporate consultancy job in the City of London. But he decided to leave not long after and spent seven months working for an NGO in Sierra Leone. It was here that he purchased his first camera and began walking the streets, taking documentary photographs. "It was my first street photography experience, before even knowing such an artform existed," he says. "When I returned to the UK, I started a wedding photography business to make a living out of my newfound passion. Shortly after, I went full-time, and that was eight years ago."
Alongside his wedding photography business, Matt continued his street photography, even organising several overseas trips with other photographers. "I found both disciplines feeding into each other. My style has always had a strong documentary approach, so the two complement each other. As a result, while I enjoy experimenting with different techniques within street photography, I'd say most of my work has a storytelling focus."