Lost ones

Director and photographer Jacob John Harmer captures a delicate portrait of small-town youth
By Ella Joyce | Art | 8 December 2021

The coming of age trope in cinema is one so many grapple with – attempting to capture those tumultuous moments on the cusp of adolescence – but Jacob John Harmer’s Lost Ones is a truly intimate ode to just that.

Beginning life as a photobook shot over three summers in his home town of Hastings, after coincidentally meeting Alfie (“I encountered Alfie who was chilling with his friend Joe after just dropping acid”) and his friendship group that became the series’ long pondered set of protagonists, Harmer documented each of their eighteenth birthdays and candidly interviewed them about their respective experiences of growing up in the seaside town. As the notion of youth continues to fascinate us, perhaps due to the universal relatability or because of the defining ability it holds over one’s identity, Harmer captures the wistful period of time with delicacy and ease: we see the friends simply hanging out, smoking, exploring.

The accompanying film takes a more visceral approach to the same set of principles as the volatile stage between childhood and adulthood is faced by Alfie and his friends on screen. Crossing this narrative with the mythicism of Occultist, Aleister Crowley, who damned all those born in Hastings from ever being able to escape, Harmer depicts the separation between those who thrive or fall in the unknown face of the ‘real world’. After debuting at festivals internationally this year, Lost Ones received multiple awards including Best Film at Brighton Rocks 2021. Below, the photographer and filmmaker behind the film discusses the film’s origin, his affiliation with Hastings and the plans for a sequel. 

On the central focus of coming of age and youth culture…
“I grew up in a time synonymous with the ‘coming-of-age’ movies: The Goonies, ET, Dirty Dancing, The Lost Boys and Rumble Fish all played a big part in my childhood, in my teens Donnie Darko was my favourite film too. Therefore, through pure osmosis, all of these films must have had an influence. Although I feel the bigger impact has been down to personal experience. I do believe as we age we get desensitised to the omnipresent mysteries that exist all around us – life’s majesty. I can still remember when I was younger my dreams being much more vivid, clear-as-day recurrent deja-vu, often feeling the presence of others when alone, I was just way more perceptive than I am now – I’m properly indoctrinated as a cog in society’s wheel. I just keep coming back to those years, exploring them, again and again.” 

I do believe as we age we get desensitised to the omnipresent mysteries that exist all around us…”

On his fascination with the occultist Aleister Crowley…
“Lost One
s opens describing a curse of Aleister Crowley’s – one I’d never heard before, but apparently is old folklore of Hastings, it states that ‘during the winter of 1947, the run-down British seaside town of Hastings bode farewell to one of its most notorious residents: the Occultist Aleister Crowley. Having travelled far and wide, he returned to Hastings in his final years, and just before he died, he cast one final spell over the town; cursing the people born there from ever being able to escape’.

This sparked so many questions for me. How did this infamous, world-renowned man of his time end up in tiny old Hastings? A town I grew up in, at the end of the line (Hastings being the final destination for most routes within the region), the final destination so to speak. That’s what drew me in initially and after further reading, his mix of celebrity and mythology kept me delving deeper. But aside from the menacing title of ‘The Wickedest Man In The World’, I found some of his philosophy incredibly inspiring. In addition to the text about the curse, I decided to open with an actual quote of his: “The first condition of success in Majick is purity of purpose” – an example I felt encapsulated the mystique of the narrative which was about to unfold.”

On the transition from a photobook to a short film…
Lost Ones the photobook is a three-year chronology, separate to the concept and story of Lost Ones the film, yet both share similar ‘coming of age’ themes. I first met Alfie (the lead protagonist) whilst visiting my parents and going for a walk in a remote area I used to hang out with my friend’s once upon a time, it was there I encountered Alfie who was chilling with his friend Joe after just dropping acid – we bonded and the journey began. Alfie introduced me to more of his friends and the project blossomed, the book became a record of all of the subjects turning eighteen during the three summers that we shot.

The Lost Ones film became an extension of those themes because certain mediums have their limitations and what I wasn’t able to explain in single frames or put into words, was for me so much more expressive as cinema.”

I wanted to showcase that universal lack of opportunity in the forgotten towns throughout the UK, but also the closeness and togetherness between friends that develop as a consequence.”

On hastings as a location…
“The film was inspired by my own upbringing (having also grown up in Hastings before leaving for London to study in the early 2000s) and story-wise pretty much stayed the same as it was originally scripted. Although extensive workshopping sessions with the cast allowed us to discuss and adapt the language, slang to be aligned with how kids speak today. Alfie had had acting roles before, yet the cast were mostly his friends and first-time actors – therefore I made the time available for them in our schedule and really pushed to use moments of ad-lib and improvisation after recording my initially scripted lines. I hoped this would bring a level of authenticity to the film and was so happy with each and every one of their performances (Lost Ones subsequently won best ensemble cast 2021 at Ignite film festival).

Hastings is a town I love, It’s got a vibe like no other, although it has always had a somewhat bad reputation and the opportunities for the youth there are few and far between. I wanted to showcase that universal lack of opportunity in the forgotten towns throughout the UK, but also the closeness and togetherness between friends that develop as a consequence. I’d had this script idea floating around in my head for a few years based primarily on those conversations friends have about their hopes and dreams – when we’re moving away from the shelter of the past and into the magnitude of the decisions that lay just ahead in your near future, ‘lost’ in a new and exciting world of hedonism and ‘lost’ in the liberation outside of the regimented confines of the school system. Yet, what cemented my vision was definitely meeting Alfie for the first time through my photobook project.

The journey of documenting each of the teenagers turning eighteen allowed me time for reflection, and for the narrative of the film to become more cohesively formed. I recognised that now was the time to tell my story. I’d reached an age where the style of clothes and music I’d grown up with had come full circle – the cast were all so deeply immersed in the culture of  Y2K (the late 1990s/early 2000s)  listening to the same jungle and rap music (Ram Records, V Recordings, Ice Cube, Biggie, Tupac) and were sourcing what was now vintage clothes from that same era. It was uncanny that Alife was a DJ (as I once was) and actually wears my Evisu clown-face denim jacket that I had worn on those same seaside streets and underground clubs all that time before. That jacket suddenly felt like a perfect emblem for his character and although a bit dusty it was still in mint condition after sitting in my parents’ loft for nearly two decades.”

On his plans for a sequel of Lost Ones…
“Witnessing the crew’s development during the shoot was so dramatic to me, they both physically and mentally transformed. I wanted the book to showcase this progression sequentially, to try and capture what it felt like to be young. Lost Ones aims to represent this precious and fleeting time through a first edition run of only 200 copies. I plan to revisit the protagonists in ten years time and produce (a somewhat ironically titled) Found Ones, to see how they’re getting on over a similar three year period. I’d like for them to sit as companion pieces, side by side on the bookshelf, identical in design, yet I foresee – worlds apart in content.”

Lost Ones the photobook was designed by Lucas Gabellini-Fava and is available to purchase on Jacob’s website here.
Follow Jacob on Instagram.

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