Horse-Drawn Travelers for a New Century

The Photo Blog
Oct. 21 2013 10:53 AM

On the Road With Britain's New Gypsies


Iain McKell

More than 25 years ago, Iain McKell first photographed a group of young anti-Thatcher rebels for the London-based Observer. Boarding old vans and buses, the self-identified “Peace Convoy” left London for the English countryside, traveling between music festivals and illegal sites. “It was Summer Holiday meets Clockwork Orange,” McKell told Forbes. “I found their juxtaposition of anarchy and beauty quite interesting.”

McKell returned to the countryside again in 2001 for the summer solstice festival at Stonehenge, and by then the travelers he met had taken up horse-drawn caravans as their mode of transportation, incorporating a strain of back-to-the-land environmentalism into a hybrid of hippy and punk lifestyles. For the next 10 years, sometimes for several days at a time, McKell traveled and photographed the group, which has culminated in a book called The New Gypsies, published by Prestel.

The travelers are not related to the Roma, an ethnic group that has been historically called gypsies. They have voluntarily adopted aspects of the old nomadic way of life but in other ways remain connected to the modern world. McKell said they carry cellphones, maintain Facebook accounts, and even make use of solar power.


Iain McKell


Iain McKell


Iain McKell


While the travelers don’t have permanent addresses or steady jobs, McKell said they make money in a variety of ways. Some busk or do odd jobs; others build caravans, sell handmade crafts, or do farm work. McKell said there are no precise numbers on the number of travelers, as they’re not officially recognized by the British government. Some travel in bands, while others travel alone or with their families.

Though the travelers are peaceful, McKell said they are often portrayed negatively in the British media and looked upon with disdain by the population. “I didn't go there as a journalist, and I knew that gave me a huge advantage, because they're very suspicious of people asking questions,” McKell said.

McKell comes from a background in fashion photography. In 2009, McKell enlisted Kate Moss to do a photo shoot with the travelers for V magazine. Moss spent two days living in their camp, with the important difference being her wardrobe: a mix of high-end labels including John Galliano, Stefanel, and Dsquared.

For his book, McKell said the travelers wanted him to feature their musical activities and their craftsmanship, but ultimately McKell had his own vision. “I focused a lot on the people in the end. It's a book of people. At the end of the day, that's what makes the culture,” McKell said.


Iain McKell


Iain McKell


Iain McKell


Iain McKell



Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 4:33 PM Walmart Is Killing the Rest of Corporate America in Solar Power Adoption
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.