Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Life through a lens

I fell in love with the Dales twenty five years ago when my grandparents moved to the area - and because of this ten years ago I moved here myself.

Dusk from Addlebrough

As well as looking after the IT systems at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority I’m a professional photographer and spend a lot of my free time out on the hills at first and last light trying to capture the beauty and strangeness of this extraordinary landscape.
Last year I took the opportunity to reduce my hours and finally pursue a photographic project I had been mulling over.

I work at the Authority because I believe in the valuable work the organisation does and, through my time here, I have become aware of the wide range of amazing people who also spend their time caring for the area.

Juniper in front of Ingleborough - the favourite view of
Fran Graham, Wildlife Conservation Officer, YDNPA

So I decided to put together an Arts Council grant bid to produce a book and exhibition celebrating the work they carry out. When completed, 'Working the View' will include the favourite views of forty people who work on the landscape - from farmers to landowners to employees of environmental organisations – all photographed by me.

However, images on their own can only show the beauty of the landscape – they don’t reveal the work which goes on behind the scenes.

Fortunately my sister Sarah is a professional writer (and soon to become a famous novelist!), so the second half of the project involves her interviewing these people to find out why they love that view, as well as learning more about the work they do to make it look the way it does.

Moughton Scar - the favourite view of David Sharrod,
Director, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust
Over the last year in my search to get the best photograph from these viewpoints I have witnessed the sun rise from spectacular locations such as the top of Barden Moor in Wharfedale and above Hawkswick in Littondale. I have watched it set from the top of Addlebrough in Wensleydale (image, top right) and the side of Ingleborough in Ribblesdale. I have discovered new locations to visit and have viewed familiar ones in different ways.
The light is magical and, apart from the struggle to leave my bed in the morning and the complaints from my legs as I spur them up steep hills before I've had breakfast, it has been a joy to experience the views at these times of day. As long as you research the weather well I would encourage everyone to try it at least once.

As a photographer, it has also been a challenge to take someone else’s favourite viewpoint and their relationship with it, and turn the 3D panorama into a 2D image that appeals to people who don't have that same personal connection. 

View above Hawkswick - the favourite view of Roger Gibson,
drystone waller/fencer and landscape contractor

While I have been out experiencing the views themselves, Sarah has been discovering the fascinating stories behind them.

Plucking her from her London base, I have sent her on trips all over the Dales to remote farmhouses and tucked away offices, from her city life to discussions about how to construct drystone walls, farm sheep and restore peat moorland.

Her different outlook has been an advantage. Although my countryside knowledge is by no means comprehensive, after a while you take certain things for granted. Having someone with a fresh outlook has resulted in many interesting discussions!

Sarah has gathered a wealth of interesting new facts - including how to sex a Juniper tree. Fran Graham, the Authority’s Wildlife Conservation Officer, discussed threats to the plant’s population and collecting seeds to propagate and use in regeneration projects.

Other people have described how they discovered the Dales, such as David Sharrod (Director of the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust) who first came on a sixth form school trip, and Dave Higgins (Project Manager for the Yorkshire Dales River Trust) who visited on family holidays from Hull.
Ingleborough - favourite view of Louise Smith,
Lead Adviser for Land Management, Natural England

Most of all, people have been describing just how special the Dales is to them. Drystone waller/fencer and landscape contractor Roger Gibson said:  “There’s no place like the Yorkshire Dales anywhere in the world. When you go travelling, the best thing about it is coming back – a lot of local people tell you that. You can never beat that feeling you get when you come past Kilnsey Crag and turn into Littondale.”

And Louise Smith (Lead Adviser for Land Management, Natural England) describes how “the characters that basically make this landscape living and breathing are the farmers, the farmer’s wives…they are part of that landscape. They have such admiration for it.”

My sister and I feel privileged to have met just a few of those who live in and care for this very special place. 

A free ‘work in progress’ exhibition is on public display at the Authority’s Bainbridge office until 31 October, which will then move to the Mill Gallery in Skipton from 2 November. Mark’s images can be viewed at

1 comment:

  1. great blog, I would so love to be able to do what you do, if only I could get a job in the Dales I would move today ! Looking forward to seeing your books sounds so exciting.