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Voices From The Land exhibition in Hawes presents a unique record of Dales farmers’ lives

PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 November 2017

John and Steph Bland with their children, Thwaite Bridge farm, Mossdale near Hawes

John and Steph Bland with their children, Thwaite Bridge farm, Mossdale near Hawes

Rob Fraser

The Yorkshire landscape has inspired artists and writers for centuries and now the farmers who have sculpted the land are the subjects of an exhibition.

Husband and wife team Rob and Harriet Fraser have collected audio recordings and photographic portraits of farmers from across the Yorkshire Dales which are now on display at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.

Kendal-based writer Harriet and photographer Rob have worked for the last year with a team of three students from Leeds University, and 12 volunteers to create ‘Voices From The Land’, a unique record of Dales farmers’ practices, ideas and personalities.

A total of 27 farmers were interviewed and talked about their views on everything from changes in the climate to the perfect Swaledale tup, and from the art of mole-trapping to the uncertainty caused by Brexit.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to view monochrome portrait photographs of each farmer, accompanied by a description of the farmers’ land and stock holdings. A further 19 colour photographs, taken at agricultural shows and on farms, will be on display. ‘Listening stations’ allow people to hear the audio recordings, while feature-length articles on each farmer – based on the interviews – are available to read.

All the photographs, writing and audio recordings gathered during the course of the project will be archived at the Dales Countryside Museum and at Leeds University.

‘Voices From The Land meets a vital need,’ said Dales Countryside Museum manager, Fiona Rosher. ‘Our collection provides a great insight into farming practices and personalities from around 1930 to the 1980s – but we had precious little to reflect the period since then. This Voices From The Land will bring our collection up-to-date and provide a valuable and entertaining resource for people today, as well as for future generations.’

Thomas Iveson of Low Blackburn Farm in Hawes was one of the interviewees. A champion Swaledale tup breeder, he told the project about the best tup he ever saw – which went by the name ‘Aygill Officer’.

‘The hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I think about him,’ he said. ‘I went to see him at his home. He came down the hillside and blew me away. Just the depth of his black – the deepest black, with the brightest, hardest white – it just hit you from a distance. It was his bone, and the silver on his eyes. He wasn’t great on his legs, a little narrow behind as we say, but he was quality: the tup of my lifetime.’

Harriet, a poet and writer who is originally from Hampshire, said it had been a privilege to spend time with the farmers. ‘All the farmers interviewed were exceptionally welcoming and open about sharing what was important to them. Each farm was unique but all the farmers shared a deep passion for caring for livestock in the best possible way in the landscape in which they found themselves.

‘I found a strong commitment and desire to farm in a way that works with the landscape. But there is some frustration with the way current schemes are designed and run; and together with this, an interest in taking part in shaping new schemes. All would like to see support which avoids a general slide into ranch-type, large-scale farming or more intensive farming.’

Photographer Rob has 35 years experience but for this project he used an old-fashioned plate camera and took only four or five photos at each shoot. ‘The long process of setting up the camera helped the farmers to relax,’ he said. ‘I wanted them to look comfortable in their environment – it was their farm, their land. All I asked was that the farmer looked directly into the lens to engage with the viewer. It was a chance to capture their strength of character.’

Voices From The Land runs until the Dales Countryside Museum closes for Christmas on December 22. It will remain in place for a few weeks once the museum re-opens in February.

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