Monster Children Interview

In conversation with Rosie Flanagan , January 2020. 

Could you introduce us to your series ‘Anarchy Tamed’, and explain how it fits within your work more broadly?
Anarchy Tamed is a series of pictures made during a 5 day period camping in the desert at the worlds biggest post-apocalyptic festival. 

How did someone based in London come across such a niche festival in America? And did you fly all the way to the States just to capture it?
I saw a clip of it online when researching another project. 

Pretty much yeah. There was some other pictures I wanted to take as part of another project which had been on my shoot wish list for awhile and also I’d done quiet a bit of research towards a new series that happened to be in that neck of the woods so I wanted to scout that out as well. I’d never been to the States before so this was an excuse to hit several birds with one stone.

The festival imagines a post-apocalyptic world; why do you think people are so fascinated with dystopian futures like those pictured in Mad Max?
I think there’s a list of reasons why something like this would exist and be popular but the ones I picked up on are about escapism from contemporary society and wanting to flirt with the idea of society starting over again.  

What does the theme say about the current state of the world and our desire for escapism?
Fear of environmental destruction and anxiety towards the future does feel like the zeitgeist at the moment. I think that is part of it. People need an outlet and this offers them that outlet. 

What was the atmosphere of the festival like? Did it achieve the immersion promised?
When I was there I just chucked myself in at the deep end. I wanted to experience the place and the people and to forget the world over the horizon was still carrying on. The festival organisers go to great lengths to create the immersion, and it definitely feels real if you’re open to forgetting it’s not. People don’t call you by your real name, you’re given a Wasteland name by others when you’re there, you have to be in character to be allowed in, the decor is believable enough, and people get really, really into it. They only thing that really broke the immersion was the very much appreciated bright blue portaloos tucked away in the corners of the site and the occasional unavoidable phone that was whipped out. Other than that they nailed it. 

Some of the attendants of Wasteland Weekend look, quite frankly, terrifying. What was it like interacting with them as a photographer?
As much as people were dressed to intimidate it was usually to spark conversation more than anything else. It’s a place where the more badass you look the more brownie points you get from others and to an extent people seek that confirmation from others. It took me a while to get used to strangers saying “fuck you” as a friendly greeting of endearment. People don’t swagger around trying to be aggressive or intimidating, if anything they are dressed to impress, spending weeks and months planning their costumes meticulously. One of the things I like about being a photographer is interacting with people that don’t necessarily want to be interacted with, getting over that initial awkward barrier, overcoming it, and making a portrait together. It’s not always about putting them at ease. Everyone I spoke to was really welcoming though, and probably just as curious about me as I was of them. Ya know, British bloke with a massive metal camera in the desert trying to make small talk. I definitely played up to that role.  

I’ve read that the “tribes” present at the festival often maintain their relationships throughout the year; could you tell us a bit about them?
Yes absolutely. People stay in touch, organise themselves in-between events. Midway through the year there is also the Wastelanders’ Ball for tribes to meet up and hang out in a non-desert environment. That is one of the things that surprised me about the place, the sense of brother/sisterhood between people. The tribe thing is an extension of that. Playing with the idea that society has been restarted is part of it as well, people genuinely look out for each other, more so than any other festival I’ve been to in the past. If someone’s staggering around with heatstroke they’d get ushered into the shade of someones tent and given iced water. It happened to me on one of the first days. 

The festival lineup is incredible – who knew you could fill five days with Mad Max themed events? – what was the strangest thing that you saw?
The strangest event definitely goes to vibrator racing. Picture the scene; a wooden board at a downward angle with 4 or 5 vibrators racing to the finish line. A woman dressed like a sexy lady raptor with a mic keeping scores and hyping up the crowd. A league table scoreboard, a crowd of maybe 200 people, some sitting, some standing at the back, cheering on their favourite contender. It was dark so the whole place was lit by fairy lights and lanterns. Surreal but hilarious. When it got dark I made the point to put my cameras away and to just enjoy it. 

Speaking of immersion: What did you wear, what was the food like, and where did you camp?
I went as a Mad Max version of myself, purposefully not too dissimilar to how I usually dress; a pair of beaten up Reebok Classics, ripped black jeans, grey top, beaten up utility vest and a vented baseball cap. Whenever the sandstorms hit I had a combination of dust mask, bandana and bright yellow swimming goggles. Did the trick.

Officially there is limited food on site, everyone is expected to bring their own food and water. There’s a few Facebook groups for people driving to the festival who want to lift share / convoy. I posted on there about needing a lift and ended up getting a ride with this mid twenties girl with blue hair and piercings who’d been a few times before which was lucky. The whole surviving in a tent in the desert was something that I had been freaking out about so it was good to badger someone for the 3 hour drive from LAX to the site about it. We went to Walmart and I bought like 3 or 4 cans of food for each of the 6 or so days I was out there for. We’re talking canned baked beans, green beans, canned ravioli, canned greens and like 8 gallons of water. 

I bought a tent with me on the plane and had no idea what to expect. I set it up in the shadow of the car. It felt like over preparation but I read online about using survival blankets over your tent to reflect the heat and foot long steel tent spikes to make sure your tent doesn’t fly away during a sandstorm. On Amazon I found a survival blanket tarpaulin that was surprising good. Whilst everyone else was getting woken up at 6am from the sun I was smugly sleeping in until 11am. It was cooler in my tent than it was outside. 

What did you miss that you wish you had captured on film?
The night time Jugger match (a contact sport they based on a film that’s somewhere in-between if Mad Mad did American football and the 90s TV show Gladiators). I made my way to the front of the crowd, the pitch was staked out using ropes. Off to one side they had roped off a section and put a sign up that read PRESS ONLY. As most press people didn’t stay after dark I was the only person there so had free reign. I had this idea to grab the players when they came off the pitch, still panting, exhausted and sweating, and taking portraits of each one. It would have been great! In the dark, using flash, when all they wanted to do was sit down out the way of the crowd. 

If I had an assistant with me it would have been fine, someone to help with crowd control and for coaxing the players into it but as it was I could only grab one at a time. Focusing in low light was near impossible and the tiny flash unit did it’s best. I burned through a roll or two but always felt like it could have gone better. The next day the match was called off because the sandstorm was picking up so I went over to their camp, lined them up and took some of my favourite portraits of the series. 

This text is for research purposes, no copyright infringement is intended.

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