Justin Partyka: The East AngliansSituated on the east coast of Great Britain, East Anglia is one of the country’s most rural and agricultural regions.

The flat landscape, massive skies and long farming heritage make East Anglia the closest place that Britain has to a prairie region.

For the last nine years I have been traveling the back roads of rural East Anglia, passing down drove and lane, track and way. On my journeys I discovered the remnants of the agrarian community that was once widespread throughout this region. For most people this is a world that no longer exists. It is a place where traditional methods and knowledge are still very much depended upon, and the identity of the people is intimately shaped by the landscape on which they live and work. Small-time farmers, reed cutters and rabbit catchers, these are the East Anglians – the forgotten people of the flatlands who continue to work the land because the need to is in their blood. 

Central to an agrarian culture is the idea of land: not just working the land, living on the land, and owning the land (all which are important) – but that much deeper concept of being part of the land; the process of it becoming both physically and psychologically engrained in the human experience. It is impossible to escape the presence of the landscape. It creeps from the fields into the home. It enters through an open window, or a crack under the door; engrained in the palm of a hand, or on the sole of a boot. Leeks sprout from the curtains and the tabletop is fenland peat. The agrarian farmers I have come to know are so deeply rooted to the land, it is as if they have grown up out of the soil like a tree. Such an intimate relationship comes from what the rural writer, farmer and activist Wendell Berry, describes as “knowledge in place for a long time.”

Justin Partyka

An exhibition of this work is now on at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich until 13 December 2009.