La Petite Foire de Semel, 2018

La Petite Foire, organised each year by MAP (Mouvement d'Action Paysanne) on the same weekend as Belgium's main agricultural fair at Libramont, celebrates and promotes the country's growing network of rural craftsmen and women, producers, smallholders and organic farmers.

I volunteered to photograph the event in 2017 and was pleased to be invited back for this year's fair. The people are lovely, the food is great and the mood is positive and engaged. Despite the threat of showers on Saturday, the turnout this year was amazing. Many of the workshops and displays were sell-outs, with people spilling out of the tents onto the surrounding grass. And it was hot! The beer flowed and there was a permanent queue in front of the ice-cream stand.

Although the fair is very largely run by volunteers, MAP depends on some public support, in particular from the Province of Luxembourg, and I was careful to get good shots of their banners. But the local politicians who came along to the official opening must have been impressed by the numbers of people who were there, so I hope funding is secure for the next few years.

The Handmade Parade

When I visited my sister in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire at the end of June it was the weekend of the town's annual carnival.

In the mid-19th century, Hebden Bridge was a prosperous manufacturing town whose textile mills were connected to distant suppliers and customers by canal and rail. The canal and the railway line are still there, but the town itself quickly slumped into industrial decline until artists and hippies started to move in in the 1970s. Today, Hebden is flourishing modestly again, despite a couple of devastating recent floods. There are few empty shop premises, new housing is being built, and there is a lively cultural scene.

The town is home to a mixed community of rural working class families and first and second generation 'alternative' in-comers of all kinds. This variety, and the happy tolerance with which they all seem to rub along, reminded me of Brussels where I live. The parade itself shares a lot with Brussels' bi-annual Zinneke Parade. Both are conscious celebrations of the diversity of the communities from which both performers and spectators are drawn.

My best photographs of the parade were all made at the end, as it entered the park for the finale. I sat on a patch of grass and shot upwards as the different groups passed just a metre or two in front of me, enabling me to simplify what was generally quite a busy scene. Converting some of the images into black and white simplified them even further and created a few compositions that I really like.

Running portraits

This year's Brussels 20km race attracted around 40,000 runners, who completed the circuit through the city's boulevards and parks in sweltering heat. At around its half-way mark the course runs throught the Bois de la Cambre, close to where I live, and I was there as the first contestants arrived. Soon, the road was packed solid with contestants.

Like all the best activities in Brussels, the 20km mixes participants and spectators from Belgium's Flemish-speaking and French-speaking communities with foreign residents and visitors, and it is conducted with universal good humour.

I love photographing people as they run. Their faces are concentrated and intense, expressing aspects of themselves that would often be hidden in posed portraits. But it is technically and emotionally challenging – I only had a second or two to select each face and focus, swinging the camera to track it as the person passed. I tried to acknowledge everyone I photographed, and exchanged smiles and a few words with many of them. At one point, firemen had tapped into the mains water supply to set up a makeshift spray, and I captured some fine expressions of shock as cold water drenched hot bodies.

After a couple of hours, I cycled across town to the Cinquantenaire where the race had started and where many of the people I had photographed were now arriving at the finish. I managed to speak with a few of them. I gave Claude my card and have since sent him the portraits that I took of him.