While the photographer Jocelyn Bain Hogg was cleaning out his mother’s house after her death in 2014, he found a shoebox of old negatives from his time at Lancing College, an upper-class boarding school in West Sussex, England. Brushing aside decades of grime and dust, he found hundreds of frames taken between 1976 and 1981 that revealed forgotten friendships, crushes, and fights from his teenage years.
Now based in London, Bain Hogg continues to photograph hidden worlds and youth subcultures, from organized crime in London to Ibiza’s club culture. But he says he originally picked up a camera—a Rolleiflex that belonged to his late father—as armor against the social pressures and cruelty of a school that used to enroll exclusively wealthy teenage boys. By the end of his school years, Lancing had begun to enroll female students, and Bain Hogg was named a prefect and a head of house. Far from confirming his confidence in the British class system, however, his experiences at the school led him to question its values, leading him to become the self-described “lifelong left-winger” he has been ever since.
His time at Lancing was’t all bad, though. “I think there's a sense of intimacy in these pictures which I've carried through in all my work, and it started there,” says Bain Hogg. “I hadn't realized that until I found these old negatives. They're still quite alive.” Below, the photographer shares what life in an all-boys boarding school was really like, and how it felt to rediscover a more innocent version of himself.
You never see pictures of boarding school. I couldn’t go back there now as a grown-up. But taking the photographs as a student there at the time, I think I’ve kind of got something that no one else has ever done.
English boarding schools have been going for centuries. Henry VI started Eton College back in 1440. Ridiculous. These schools are the linchpin of the class system, and it's hard for anybody outside the UK to get that concept. Most upper-middle class people send their kids to a boarding school. Russian oligarchs’ children will be at my old school now.
I didn't fit in very well while I was student there. I was six feet tall, and shocking at all kind of sport. Couldn't play football to save my life, which in a boarding school is critical. I had a pretty unpleasant experience being bullied. In the junior dormitories, there's quite a bit of whispering going on—things they were planning to do to you. The dark room was sanctuary. It's strange, isn't it? I started taking pictures because I hated school, and I realized that if I took pictures of what was around me, I could hide. When I was 16, girls were admitted to the school, and because I'd been brought up by women, I got on very well with them. I think that was the sea change for me. People got used to me with a camera.
After graduating, when I was heading off to Newport Art College [now part of the University of South Wales], I threw the negatives from school into a shoebox. I remember giving them to my mom, saying, "Put these in the bin! Throw them away." I can't remember what she did, but she probably quieted me down, and sat me down with a cup of tea and said, "Stop being so silly." Some 40 years later, when my mom passed away in 2014, I was clearing out her stuff and found the shoebox.
I still know some of those people to this day and I’ve shown them some of these pictures. I think in a way, we were at our best. In your middle age, you look back at pictures when you were young and think, "God, did I really look like that? Is that what we did? Wow, who rolled that spliff? It’s quite well done!"