The Peter Pan Cup is a yearly 100m race, a swim across the icy-cold Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park. Swimmers have met in the park every Christmas morning since 1864, and the titular “Peter Pan Cup” was first donated in 1904 by author J.M. Barrie himself. Participants must acclimatise themselves to the cold across the year, and these weekend swim sessions have caught the attention of a few London-based street photographers who have been documenting those days. I wanted to photograph the event itself, so planned my 2019 Christmas Day around attending this early morning event.

I photographed with two cameras, my Nikon FM2 with 70-210 f/4 Series E lens, and a Nikon FG with a Sigma 24mm f/2.8. I had ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional in my FM2, and HP5 PLUS pushed to 1600 in my FG for use with the wide angle.

I wanted my focus to be on the characters and moments, rather than an all encompassing documentation of the event itself, and I’m mostly happy with the results. I had to make a few compromises due to the crowds which meant getting some images and not others – this is something I will hopefully remedy by attending another year (not likely 2020) and shooting again but from different vantage points, leading to a more complete set of images.

I quite liked the Delta 3200 Professional frames, the grain and the early morning sun were a wonderful combination. The HP5 PLUS was a bit too blocky here, I prefer the airiness and lower contrast feeling from the higher speed emulsion.

It’s interesting looking back at these images – I wrote this article a couple of weeks into the New Year (2020), and now after being asked to revisit this article by EM to add a few more thoughts I am forced to also consider the new context these images now exist in. It may be that we don’t see another Christmas gathering such as this for a while, but I’ll definitely try and be there for when it does happen! However I feel about a possible improvement to the way I made these photographs on an aesthetic and storytelling level they do now represent a strong idea about community coming together in the icy cold, and just having a great time together; very appropriate for a Christmas story. Happy holidays!

Thanks for taking the time to read this! If you enjoyed my work here you might consider following me on Instagram. I buy all of my film from Analogue Wonderland. You can find the debut zine featuring work from me and the rest of New Exit Group here.

~ Simon

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About the author

Simon King

Simon is a London based photographer and photojournalist. He is currently working on long term personal projects, and has been shooting on 35mm film since late 2016. You can follow his work on Instagram, or read his personal blog, both linked below.

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  1. Very enjoyable images, Simon – in the style of photojournalism of the 1950s what with the shallow depth of field, the graininess, the slightly-off exposure. Reminiscent of the work Roy Stryker’s group did for his Pittsburgh (PA USA) Project during that era. Stryker teamed up with Esther Bubley, Harold Corsini, Elliott Erwitt, Clyde Hare, and others.

  2. Particularly enjoyable images here, Simon. Moody, a tad fuzzy, a bit grainy: Like photojournalism of the 1950s before every camera operator became a pixel peeper.