Sophie Gerrard Drawn to the Land

This exhibition is at the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography, Lacock, until 12th March 2017.

Sophie spent two years photographing six women farmers in Scotland. Although there are increasing numbers of women entering farming the depiction of current farming tends to be both of and by men. Sophie wanted to show how women farmers shape, and are shaped by, the land which they work. Viewing the images, I found the absence of men noticeable. In one image, a young man stands in the shadows behind farmer Patricia Glennie, she is fair and illuminated by the light, he is darker and almost in the shadows – click the link to see this image on the documentscotland website, opens in new window . We see more sheep dogs than we do men.

The women seem at one with the land they farm, complete and competent. There is a strong sense of heritage evidenced by the still life images containing portraits and photographs of those relatives and ancestors who farmed their land before them. These women see themselves as part of a long chain of farmers, extending both before and after them. We see them on their hills and mountains, as portraits either within working or home environments, and still lives of domestic or farming details. Animal images are unsentimental, we see new lambs, dead lambs, livestock being sold at market, yet we also get a strong sense of these women in their homes too, with portraits, agas, guest rooms and music. We see technical clothing, bandaged thumbs, worn waxed jackets and warm hats and scarves. These women work, at all hours and in all weathers and conditions. Sarah Boden is photographed at four months pregnant and we can tell that she’s not allowing herself much concession to her pregnancy.

As I progress with my studies I find myself paying more attention to the format of images and how they are presented. For this exhibition all the images were presented in plain dark wood square frames of varying sizes. I’ve never seen an entire exhibition in square frames before and I liked it. Three of the sets were mounted on walls, the remaining three were placed in large glass cabinets with each framed image stood on a lighter wood support.

I came to this exhibition fresh from reading Paul Strand’s Tir A’mhurain: The Outer Hebrides of Scotland. I had been unexpectedly engaged by the text as much as the images, with its stories of difficult lives made even harder by land clearances. Drawn to the Land was a good way to follow this book I think, it shows the continuing resilience of the farmers. I have wondered about making a series about the women who work some of the land here in Wiltshire, and suspect that idea isn’t going away anytime soon. It is a completely different way of life here though, the climate is more amenable and farms less isolated.

I found the light in the work very engaging and interesting. It looked to be made entirely with available light, and not tampered with in any way. There were of course the big majestic Scottish skies, and the relentless grey, but also those beautiful spot-lighting golden beams into barns and a beautiful milky haze over the sea. I liked the delicacy of the indoor portrait lighting. Like so much of this work it was understated and complemented the women beautifully without demanding or distracting attention. I thought the portraits were beautifully crafted. The closer ones gave a sense of both intimacy and insight whilst also recognising the incredible bleakness and isolation of this way of life.

Photos are from my mobile intended as aide-memoire only. I encourage you to follow the links below to see the original images.




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