Lost archive photos of the Glastonbury Festival

As this year’s Glasto begins, we scour The People’s Archive collection of anonymous snapshots repossessed years

Despite the specter of muddy fields and fifth-day portaloos, there is something particularly bewitching Glastonbury Festival. Perhaps it’s Somerset’s long associations with paganism, proximity to Stone Henge, the ley lines believed to criss-cross the county, or Arthurian legends tied to this part of the world, but Glasto has a unique kind of mystical allure. which is distinctly lacking the likes of Leeds and Reading Fest.

After a two-year Covid-induced hiatus, much-loved Glastonbury is back. Festival-goers flock to the small Somerset town for one of the biggest events on the UK’s cultural calendar. Among the wide range of acts that will perform, this year’s festival sees artists like Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish, Paul McCartneyThe Libertines and Diana Ross on stage throughout the five day event.

Since its creation in 1970 by visionary dairy farmer Michael Eavis, the Glastonbury Festival has become an institution. The biggest names in music of the last half-century have at one time graced its various stages. Over the 50 iterations of the festival, Glastonbury has provided countless iconic momentsof Dolly Parton performing a particularly exquisite version of “Jolene” in Legend’s Slot 2014, Pulp heroically doubling for the Stone Roses in 1995, Bowiefrom the famous 2000 appearance, to Stormzy’s famous 2019 flagship show on the Pyramid Stage.

“A lot goes out the window in Glastonbury, you’re lucky if you get a few hours sleep most nights, it’s survival of the fittest” – Paul Wright, British Culture Archive

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, British Culture Archive shared their candid images of Glastonbury taken by festival-goers over the years. Founder and curator Paul Wright described Glastonbury’s unique appeal: “As a celebration of music and the arts, the festival has always had an underlying spiritual vibe. It’s one of those festivals you have to experience to understand. It’s becoming its own town in the fields of Somerset, and although many say it’s become too corporate, it’s still the best festival in the world with the best artists.

Working with established and emerging photographers whose work illuminates cultural and social change, the British Culture Archive is an invaluable resource of documentary photography, preserving important images from UK history. Their online galleries include images ranging from Thatcher’s Britain, acid house, the 1960s mod scene, northern soul and punk.

Their images of Glastonbury, which range from the early years of the festival until 2000, are particularly compelling as they have been submitted by the general public to the British Culture Archive through their associated organisation, People’s Archives, which is dedicated to documenting and preserving everyday snapshots of British life. These photographs are in many ways more telling because, unlike so many images of Glastonbury, these images were not necessarily taken with the intention of ever being made public. These photos are intimate and informal snapshots of life in this unique temporary ecosystem created over five brief days each year in the fields of Somerset.

Trying to decide which of these images best distills the Glastonbury experience, Wright says: “Maybe the guy is covered in mud from head to toe. Or the girl who puts on her lipstick using a piece of broken glass as a mirror. A lot goes out the window in Glastonbury, you’re lucky if you get a few hours sleep most nights, it’s survival of the fittest. But it’s a rite of passage for many. In these images you can see the brief sense of freedom and escape from the trappings of everyday life.

Take a look at the gallery above for a preview of People’s Archivescollection of Glastonbury photographs (with thanks to British Culture Archive).

Jan G. Gilbert