Of all the festivals I’ve ticked off over the last eight years, LOST has to be the most creative, unique experience I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of.
On Saturday 22nd August we drove to a carpark in Hemel Hemstead, where we were picked up by one of the festival shuttle buses. Here our journey began shrouded in mystery; with blacked out windows we had no clue where we were being transported to. This, combined with the festival’s request to leave phones behind, added to the anticipation and I could feel the excitement building as our host announced we were drawing nearer to the site.
Site anonymity is not uncommon when it comes to London parties, and I’ve been to festivals before where they’ve kept the location secret right up until the last minute. However it’s usually revealed at some point, which is the first thing that makes LOST different to any other event. The no-phones policy is the next thing that had me intrigued from the start. Founder Jodie Powell said in an interview with Bizarre Culture,
“We’re not against the use of phones in everyday life at all; we just strongly believe that people need a break from staring at screens. There’s no way you can be totally engaged in the exciting activity unfolding around you if you’re in the middle of sending a text. We’re asking LOST participants to give us their FULL attention for 24-hours. In return for their commitment, we promise to put on a truly immersive show that appeals to all the senses, where they can respond in ways that feel natural to them, with no distractions. In some ways it’s a trust exercise – we’re asking participants to rid themselves of any significant connections to the ‘outside world’ and come get LOST with us.”
Growing up as part of the millennial generation, I know it’s all too easy to get absorbed in the world of mobile technology. Also as a photographer I sometimes struggle at festivals to find the balance between capturing moments as best I can whilst allowing myself to be a part of the present moment. To know I wouldn’t have my phone as an added distraction was a huge bonus!
Back to the festival… The entire event was extremely well organized from start to finish. In the week’s leading up to LOST we were emailed a “Participant’s Pack” with tips and info on what to expect on arrival, which was re-iterated to us by our host on the shuttle bus. In about ten minutes we were there, and entered what they called “limbo” – the entrance to the festival where bags were searched, overalls collected, and people were directed to the camping field to drop off bags. We’d decided to treat ourselves for the night and for £74 each, paid for a luxury bell tent. This was set within the same field as the rest of the tents, and was decked out with a mattress, cushions, solar-powered fairy lights, and table and rug. Having the tent pre-pitched meant we could literally ditch our bags and head straight into the action, which was only a few minutes walk from the campsite.
The woodland setting was already alive with paint-splattered bodies, music and colour at every turn of the eye. Lens-wise I’d decided to bring my 24-105mm for the daytime and 50mm for night. The former held out until the sun started to dip, and the shady conditions got a bit much for the more restricted aperture. However the wider angle came in handy when trying to squeeze as much into the picture as possible with not much room to manouvre. I felt I made the right decision to leave the 70-200mm at home, since the overall area wasn’t big enough to need the zoom. Plus, I found people were so engrossed in what was going on I got the feeling they hardly noticed my camera – even less need for the zoom which comes in handy when I want to be a bit more inconspicuous!
From a photography-perspective, one initial challenge I had was upon entering the first art installation, a white room created by artist and LOST founder Jodie Powell. The concept behind this piece was the running theme of the festival; to invite visitors to become participants and break down some of the traditional “please do not touch” barriers we’re so accustomed to seeing at galleries and exhibitions. Of course I was dying to capture the action but also keen to get involved myself. I managed to do both, and also test out just how weatherproof the 5D was 😉 Collecting tubes of powder paint on our way into the room, we began to fire at will. It was a refreshing change to be able to engage with the art both physically as well as visually, and we came out ready and raring for more.
This set the precedence for the rest of the day; around every corner was a new surprise to get stuck into and more LOST souls to capture fully submersing themselves in the moment. I don’t recall seeing one person that wasn’t covered in paint or glitter. The entire woodland had been transformed into one giant playground, filled with engaging creations inviting you to interact in some way. Whether they were there to paint, be painted, crawl through, climb into, sit in, become a part of, or simply wander past…
Highlights for me included Matilda Skelton Mace’s “tunnel of horizons”, pieces of fabric hung from a plywood frame that created silos of light and space for participants to climb into. The soft afternoon daylight turned silhouettes into eery bodyforms and with each passer by that chose a different space to climb into, a new piece of art was created. Similarly, Alice Kilkenny’s glimmering streams of shiny material enticed all who found it. As we wandered through the installation we passed other people weaving in and out, catching glimpses of the human form through flecks of light and reflections.
It was clear to see how much thought and care the LOST team and artists had put into creating the site, especially apparent in all the carefully placed touches scattered around the forest. On route to a tree house for example, we were greeted by a trunk covered in dozens of beautiful origami butterflies, courtesy of artist Carly Gough. As we ascended we found ourselves sheltered by a canopy of more butterflies, creating a calming effect on the tranquil woodland perch.
Surprises were planted in every nook and cranny, and exploration seemed never-ending. Just as we’d thought we’d seen it all, meandered up every path, there was something new. It was a great chance to get creative with photography, I’m not sure there was a single angle that day I didn’t manage to shoot from and it was amazing for opening up my eyes to looking at things in a different way. I think another challenge for me was trying to convey what I was seeing, as best I could through my lens. Ultimately you want to portray a combination of things; the setting / surrounds, what’s going on, the atmosphere, composition, energy, and as far as LOST went – the relationship and interaction between people and art. Not an easy feat when you want to get stuck into the action too!
As well as the art, LOST was home to everything else you needed for a 24-hour festival. By the entrance, Gypsy East had set up their Aladdin’s cave of jewels, kaleidoscopes, and gorgeous floral crowns to adorn passers by. Theatrical arts collective Shotgun Carousel kept people on their toes with an immersive parade; a tribal procession of body-painted performers that stalked the woods, catching eyes and turning heads as they went. And further into the woods was the Light Eye Mind tent, an intriguing addition to the festival inviting visitors to relax and re-focus minds using the power of light energy.
To keep participants fuelled there was a main bar which never seemed to get too busy, and three street food stalls. Food-wise we opted for Kloud Nine’s delicious gourmet BBQ halloumi burgers, served with hummus, tomato, gherkins and roasted red peppers. Plus a huge smile to boot.
By dusk my first battery pack was already dwindling, and I suspected with darkness the forest would undergo a transformation I wouldn’t want to miss. As soon as the light started to fade we ducked back to our tent to swap batteries and gear up with our night time accessories. Sure enough, LOST looked like a whole different festival in the dark. Each installation called for a round two of exploration, and Shotgun Carousel continued to showcase their theatrics on the main stage.
Music-wise, it was again refreshing to be a part of a festival where the lineup didn’t take priority. Although the main stage provided an eclectic bill of underground acts, the music was more like the backdrop to the day rather than the pinnacle. The Discofunk collective served a serious helping of funk, deep house, and groovy beats at a smaller stage that kept people moving until the early hours, thanks to the likes of fine local talent such as Optimus Funk and Jnr Windross. The team took great care and creativity in decking their area out to add to the essence of LOST and provided the perfect soundtrack to the day and night.
To conclude, LOST succeeded in placing itself firmly on the festival map (where exactly I’m still unsure). Logistically everything ran very smoothly – there were none of the usual queues for anything, the camping field was next to the site entrance, plenty of loos and more than enough going on to keep people entertained. One thing I would add for next year in terms of suggestions would be to have more water points – or at least one inside the forest – and if possible to provide a path through the camping field so as to avoid legs being pestered by stinging nettles. In the grand scheme of things though these are very minor points and the team did an amazing job at organising such an intimate yet intricate event.
On top of all the art, we felt thoroughly spoilt and hugely grateful at the same time for being within such beautiful natural surrounds for the weekend. We met some absolutely lovely people, and feel like we’ve indulged in a whole new type of creative experience. LOST’s no-phones policy also re-affirmed my belief in living in the present moment and synchronicity; being cut off from the outside world, fully submersed in the moment, and leaving things up to chance. A policy I might take with me moving forward for future festivals!
Just when I thought our experiences couldn’t get any better, LOST goes and raises the bar once again. And as for festivals to photograph, this has to be one of my favourites – for more photos please check out my gallery. Congratulations to Jodie, Oli, and all who were involved, we can’t wait for next year already!