Embracing 'England: The Last Hurrah' Through The Elegantly Invited Lens of Dafydd Jones | Nothing Wrong With A Bit of Pomp and Posturing

Via Issue 186, The Promenade Issue!

Written by

Bennett DiDonna

Photographed by

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Dafydd Jones. “6AM Trinity May Ball” (1984). From England: The Last Hurrah. By Dafydd Jones (Acc Art Books, 2023). Courtesy Of The Artist And Acc Art Book.

Oh, to have been young in the 80s...or so I’ve been told by my parents. Economic uncertainty, a re-examination of status, and a rip-roaring feeling of socio-intergenerational friction needed an outlet...and in the hoity-toity gardens of Eton & Oxbridge, an outlet it had. In England: The Last Hurrah (ACC Art Books), photographer, Dafydd Jones, provides an inside look at the fantastical pomp and promenading of England’s upper crust from a bygone era. 

While we may now feel immune to the social media pump and dump of jet setters’ lives behind the scenes, the intimate view of privilege and eccentricity in Jones’ photography resonates all the more today. Jones’ work is held in the collections of top international institutions, the likes of which include The National Portrait Gallery. Flaunt sat down with the photographer to discuss formal fêtes past and present.

Dafydd Jones. “Lucinda West And Olivier De Fallentons, James McMullen’s 30th Birthday, Cliveden, 1986” (1986). From England: The Last Hurrah. By Dafydd Jones (Acc Art Books, 2023). Courtesy Of The artist And Acc Art Books.

Do you feel that every generation’s youth has a taste for depravity and debauchery, or was there something unique about England in the 80s?

In the 80s, there was a kind of reaction against drabness. Because of tax cuts, the wealthy found themselves richer and spent the extra cash they had on parties. There was a celebratory mood. Among the upper classes, dressing up for parties was in vogue. What was different in England was a kind of fantasy of decaying upper-class country house life. I was drawn to English eccentricity. But to return to the question, there have always been wild parties. I would be as unobtrusive as possible and photograph what was happening in front of me. I wouldn’t say there was much depravity and debauchery. That seems an overstatement. 

From dress, to manners, to topics of conversation, there are quite a few social norms we are expected to follow when socializing. Do you feel that parties are inherently performative? 

Yes. They are important events in everyone’s life. Birthdays, openings, launches, weddings, and celebrations. During the pandemic, everyone realized how much they missed socializing and simply talking and being close to other people. We mark our lives by parties and often remember them more than the more routine activities of daily life. Romances start at parties. Sometimes at parties, things come to a crisis point. People can have terrible depression in the middle of a crowd. I’m continually amazed at what is revealed by looking with a camera. The social world is a circus that continues to excite me. 

What do you think high society looks like in 2023?

Well, now the wealthy are even wealthier, so the parties are more extravagant. Life is unfair and the rich do seem to have more fun. Guests arrive by private jet or helicopter and may magically appear. But, because of social media, everyone feels more watched and perhaps perform. 15 years ago at some parties, the guests were asked to check their phones. Now, this would probably cause acute anxiety, and I haven’t seen it happening recently.

Dafydd Jones. “Newmarket Beagles Ball, Whitebread Brewery, April 1989” (1989). From England: The Last Hurrah. By Dafydd Jones (Acc Art Books, 2023). Courtesy Of The Artist And Acc Art Books.

Written by Bennett DiDonna

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Dafyyd Jones, Bennett DiDonna, ACC Art Books, England: The Last Hurrah, Flaunt Magazine