Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

The sidelines are at the center of Martin Amis’s photographs of racing in England

April 6, 2018 at 6:00 AM

From “The Gamblers.” (Martin Amis/Courtesy of RRB PhotoBooks/)
From “The Gamblers.” (Martin Amis/Courtesy of RRB PhotoBooks/)

Martin Amis has been frequenting the racetracks of southern England since 2005 to photograph the boisterous scenes, but his interest in the subject traces back to his childhood.

“I have particularly fond recollections of the days when my father would take me with him to the races. I loved to watch the horses race, but I loved even more to watch the motley cast of characters betting on them. The stench of beer and tobacco would fill the air as bookmakers’ chants of the latest odds cut through the gamblers’ lively conversations. Later in life, when I started out as a photographer, it was an obvious subject to explore and an arena where I felt very comfortable.”

His upcoming book, “The Gamblers,” which takes a closer look at those motley characters, creates a visual cross-section of the racing crowd.

“A day at the races appeals across the social divides. As you walk around you can observe upper-class social gatherings, boisterous stag parties, die-hard local punters following the market moves or just people enjoying a fun day out. Often, I have stood photographing and spotted a celebrity pass by, or a member of the royal family in the paddock; it is no coincidence that racing is referred to as the Sport of Kings.”

Amis found the ritualistic nature of the races to be homogeneous across tracks throughout England, which allowed him to edit the book in a timeless style to trace the highs and lows of one day. And Amis often involves himself in those highs and lows.

“Whilst circling around photographing people, I like to get involved myself and often bet on the races, so this certainly helps keep my photography fairly discreet and, of course, during the race itself most people are naturally caught up with the action on the track. Everyone is usually having a good time, so they tend not to worry about being photographed, and when a few have asked what I’m doing, they are usually just relieved I am not from the press.”

From “The Gamblers.” (Martin Amis/Courtesy of RRB PhotoBooks/)
From “The Gamblers.” (Martin Amis/Courtesy of RRB PhotoBooks/)
From “The Gamblers.” (Martin Amis/Courtesy of RRB PhotoBooks/)
From “The Gamblers.” (Martin Amis/Courtesy of RRB PhotoBooks/)
From “The Gamblers.” (Martin Amis/Courtesy of RRB PhotoBooks/)
From “The Gamblers.” (Martin Amis/Courtesy of RRB PhotoBooks/)

The Gamblers” by Martin Amis will be published by RRB PhotoBooks on April 30.

More on In Sight:

A photographer confronts racism in post-Brexit England and explores what it means to be British-Asian

Looking back at some of the U.K.’s first teenagers, the Teddy Boys

An outsider’s view of New York City’s Harlem in the 1980s

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.


Chloe Coleman is a photo editor at The Washington Post working in Outlook and Foreign news focusing on The Americas, Europe and Russia. She is regular contributor to the In Sight blog. She joined the Post in 2014.

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