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Each year, Steve heads to Charleston in Sussex. Charleston was the home of the influential Bloomsbury group and now plays host to the renowned Charleston Festival. As part of an ongoing portrait series, Steve shoots portraits of performers and speakers. His sitters include Grayson and Philippa Perry, Demi Moore, Michael Palin, Vanessa Redgrave, Lenny Henry, Judi Dench, Helena Bonham Carter and Toby Jones.

This year, Steve was interviewed by Charleston’s Lucy Brooks about the project and what it meant to him…

Judi Dench, 2024 by Steven Hatton

Interview by Lucy Brooks

With every Charleston Festival comes another chance to bring together iconic actors, writers, artists and thinkers together under one roof, much like the Bloomsbury group before them. Each year, we are joined by a friend of the festival, Steven Hatton of Electric Egg, who has continued a photographic portrait series over many years, capturing with his lens the many faces of the festival, all within the house’s intimate rooms and spaces.

The house was the former artist’s home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who often brought together many of their friends and contemporaries. From Virginia Woolf to Roger Fry, friends joined them around the dinner table to imagine society differently. Each year, we echo this sentiment as the house once again becomes a gathering space for ideas and conversation during the festival in May.

As our festival guests enjoy food and conversation around the kitchen table before their performances, Steve slips in and whisks someone away to a quiet space. Here, he seeks to capture their very essence. We also asked Steve to share some of his favourite memories and explore what keeps bringing him back to Charleston Festival each year.

Demi Moore, 2022 by Steven Hatton

You’ve met some incredible people at Charleston over the years, and photographed everyone from movie stars to Nobel-prize winners? What are your most memorable moments meeting people at the festival?

There have been some portraits that I’ve shot over the years which have been memorable for the simple fact that I’ve always admired and loved their work, people like Michael Palin, Vanessa Redgrave, and Helena Bonham Carter. Sometimes, however, the most memorable moments have come from meeting people whose work I knew previously little of such as Benedict Lombe and, this year, Reece Clarke.

I’m naturally curious and one of the great pleasures of my work, be it my portraiture or documentary work, is learning about other people.

It’s not just the people in the portraits who make the festival memorable for me. Charleston is a unique place for many reasons but it is particularly notable for the people who work here, all who make this project possible both practically, logistically and encourage me with each visit.. All are passionate about the place and its history and that is very special.

Nick and Susie Cave, 2023 by Steven Hatton

The house at Charleston is extremely photogenic and has captured the imagination of many. What do you personally find so special about shooting inside the house at Charleston?

I started this project at the 2019 festival. The initial feeling of stepping into these spaces was, for me, one of sensory overload. Where do you start? When I return each year, I’m often preoccupied with worries about finding new ways of working with the spaces but Charleston rewards you the more you visit and I’m still finding new ways to work with the rooms both in terms of composition and light.

It’s the same if you’re a visitor on a tour, no visit is the same. The studio, for example, is a completely different space in the morning to what it is in the late evening when it possesses a different kind of magic. And lastly, but importantly, you’re always aware about the preservation considerations of the house and needing to respect that.

Reece Clark, 2024 by Steven Hatton

What is it about portraiture that you find most interesting? What do you look for in a face, a setting or composition?

In my wider portraiture work, I try to make connections been the subject and the environment, be it their work or home environments. With Charleston however, there is sometimes no tangible connection and instead I’m looking for other ways to embed and connect the person with the house or grounds. Sometimes it might be the colouring, patterns or tones of their clothing that works with a particular space. On other occasions it might be finding elements that can visually echo the subject, such as the painted box with the dancer motif in the portrait of Reece Clark or Helena Bonham Carter’s pose echoing the painting in the studio in her portrait.

Grayson and Philippa Perry, 2019 by Steven Hatton

If you could photograph anyone that we’ve not had visit us at Charleston Festival who would it be and why? We will ask the programming team…

I’ve been lucky to shoot portraits of quite a few people whose work I follow and admire greatly. Top of my remaining list would be Alan Bennett whose work means a lot to me.. I’d also love to shoot a portrait of Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker (as a double portrait) or Tom Courtenay. A lot of influences come from cinema and I love their work.