A few years ago the media were busy promoting the idea of the ‘staycation’ – a holiday spent, not in some far-flung part of globe, but in Britain, often somewhere within easy reach of home. This may just have been because the recession was putting people off expensive trips abroad, but perhaps there was something deeper going on.
At the same time as domestic tourism was flourishing, the bestseller lists and TV schedules were full of books and programmes celebrating the glories of the British landscape. There seemed to be a collective appetite for seeing home as an overseas visitor might see it. It was as though the public at large had had a light-bulb moment: ‘Oh! What an extraordinary place we live in!’
We mention this because this month’s update from the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership is all about rediscovering a sense of wonder and delight in a familiar local landscape.
One of our projects is a series of films about Nidderdale and its people which we’ve commissioned from the photographer, filmmaker and Nidderdale resident Paul Harris.
You will almost certainly have seen examples of Paul’s work. In an award-winning career he has worked for many prestigious clients including the Sunday Times, Geographical Magazine, the National Trust, the BBC, and Survival International. His portraits of British explorers are part of the permanent collections at the Royal Geographical Society and the National Portrait Gallery.
Paul is originally from the north of England, but he has spent much of his career travelling the world, working in more than 60 countries. He specialises in documentary photography, using his images to tell stories. Many of his photographs record traditional ways of life.
Since moving to Nidderdale in 2002, he has turned his lens on subjects closer to home, using the same techniques to portray Yorkshire farmers, gamekeepers and drystone wallers as he has used on reindeer herders in Siberia or Buddhist pilgrims in Tibet.
“It was a great way of getting to know people in the dale,” he says, “And for me it carried on the notion of photography being a passport to go places and find out about the people who live and work there.”
Having been struck by his work, we commissioned Paul to make a series of three films about Upper Nidderdale and the work of the Landscape Partnership. He has just completed the first film.
“It’s essentially an introduction to some of the main projects the Landscape Partnership are working on,” says Paul, “Such as reviving natural woodlands, restoring historic industrial sites, and working on conservation projects with farmers, volunteers and local communities.”
He began his own project by immersing himself in the Nidderdale landscape, heading out at dawn to get the best light.
“Getting a sense of the landscape was important as it provides a backbone to the project and will hopefully give people a good idea of how beautiful and wild Nidderdale can be.”
As a stills photographer who has relatively recently made the move into video, Paul found that the sounds of Nidderdale were as important an element in filming as the sights.
“One of the best bits of advice I got from other filmmakers and editors was the idea that audio was just as important as, if not more important than, the film footage itself. Apart from getting good recordings of people talking, it was crucial for me to get plenty of ambient sound from the landscape – the wind, birds and animals, rustling meadow plants, and so on.”
How does filming people in Nidderdale compare to taking photographs of people in, say, the Mongolian steppe or the mountains of northern Chile?
“I don’t think it matters where I am in the world filming and photographing,” says Paul. “People want to tell their story, and if I approach them with respect and a clear idea of what I want, I have found that they are more than willing to help bring that story to life.
“That said, it can sometimes be harder to communicate the story when you are familiar with a place. Photographing salt traders in the Sahara or tribal elders in North East India, you have the advantage that they are seen as exotic. In Nidderdale I try to look beyond the obvious and find something that local and visitor alike will find interesting and surprising.”
The first of Paul’s films is available to watch on our website at uppernidderdale.org.uk. If you’re a photography aficionado, you might also like to take a look at our new Photograph of the Month feature. It’s an opportunity for anyone to post a photograph of Upper Nidderdale in our online gallery. Each month we’ll pick our favourite to appear on our homepage. Get snapping!