The Trivial Pursuits picture e book celebrates England's favourite pastime

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about what it means to be British in a post-Brexit world. The result of the EU referendum in 2016 was not only a shock for documentary photographer Orlando Gili, who lives in London, but also spurred him to delve deeper into the peculiarities of the country he calls home.

The Englishman's unique love of leisure was at the heart of what was to become trivial pursuits, his photographic study of what our pastimes really say about our culture and traditions, which Hoxton Mini Press has just published in book form.

Here Gili talks about his journey from high society events to well-known festivals and local festivals, where he draws inspiration from the legendary documentary photographer Tony Ray-Jones and why our trivial activities in a post-pandemic world are becoming even more valuable.

Creative Review: Why did you decide to start the photo series after the EU referendum?
Orlando Gili: I was shocked and surprised when the 2016 holiday campaign won the EU referendum. Since I had always been a Londoner, I had underestimated how passionate it was to get out of Europe. The results made me wonder what it meant to be English. Leisure time offered a prism to look at the nation, to catch the quirks and idiosyncrasies that might reveal something deeper.

The desire for a Brexit was largely driven by political actors in England, so I decided to look at my camera within these limits. The deadline for leaving Europe gave me a deadline to work towards, which was very practical for a self-initiated project.

CR: Tell us about the process of bringing the series to life – have you tried to capture a wide range of stories?
OG: Initially, the series started with a series of smaller editorial stories directed at Vice and Lodestars Anthology, which gave the project momentum. The intention was to work across classes to document the English. Bringing together the country and the city, the old and the modern, the global and the local. I wanted to explore England beyond the M25 – though the capital is not completely excluded – to take pictures in places I hadn't been to before.

Right from the start, I wanted to present the most important English high society events and all-inclusive mainstream festivals without forgetting smaller local festivals and traditions. The project was partially inspired by the brilliant A Day Off series by photographer Tony Ray-Jones. Before taking photos, I read Kate Fox’s helpful book Watching the English, an anthropological guide to English behavior.

CR: Was there anything that surprised you when you compared your initial perceptions of English identity with those you discovered during the process?
OG: My initial perception of the English was largely confirmed by what I discovered while shooting trivial purses. There was an intractable obligation to have a good time regardless of the weather; willingness to dress up if you give an apology; respectful queuing; the sense of humor and the importance of competition determined by a sense of fair play.

Before shooting this series and living in London, I wasn't aware of how much the landscape comes to life after Easter after a bleak three-month winter. Trivial Pursuits crystallized what I suspected the English were pretty good at organizing fun, and we really need it. It gives citizens of this country permission to lose their shyness, drop their hair and really try.

CR: What do you hope people take from reading the book?
OG: The photo book celebrates the major events that bring everyone together, as well as the strange and wonderful occasions that you won't find anywhere else in the world. The range of festivities photographed and the way they are paired and sequenced show how similar we all are, even if the outfits are different.

The pandemic has reinforced my feeling that the pursuit of pleasure is not just a laugh but brings people together – a deep universal human need that we have taken for granted for many generations.

Trivial Pursuits: The English at Play is published by Hoxton Mini Press.