Biographical Landscapes

In A Fortunate Man (1) John Berger offers the thought that “Landscapes can be deceptive. Sometimes a landscape seems to be less a setting for the life of its inhabitants than a curtain behind which their struggles, achievements and accidents take place. For those who, with the inhabitants, are behind the curtain, landmarks are no longer only geographical but also biographical and personal.” (1 – p19).

I was reminded of this idea when editing photographs for assignment 5, on my first shoot Greg Kellaway, my subject, took me on a tour of his farm which is a combination of rented and owned land spread around a small parish near Sherborne in Dorset; his relationship with the landscape was intriguing.

Fig. 02 Dorset Farmer - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Fig. 01 Dorset Farmer – Steve Middlehurst 2016

The photograph in fig.01 shows, what in my opinion, is the most captivating view on the farm, an ancient track running through a lush valley overlooked by a few scattered farms. The hillside in the right-hand, middle distance is marked with the lines of the old terraces that were once the vineyard for the medieval abbey at Sherborne. To me, the tourist, it was a place of great beauty and interesting history but to Greg it was merely land that was difficult to farm, with enough badger sets to make tractor work dangerous; the reason for this lack of emotional connection? This is rented land, a resource to which Greg only has an economic relationship, in time he may no longer need this pasture for his dairy herd and will surrender the lease.

Fig. 03 The Trees - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Fig. 02 The Trees – Steve Middlehurst 2016

On the other hand we specifically visited the trees in fig. 02; their importance? They are growing on land the family owns, it has a long term future as part of his growing farm, in time he hopes his son will farm this land and these trees are a biographical landmark within that future. His demeanour became contemplative and philosophical, wondering what changes in the landscape these trees had seen, comparing the ages of the buildings on the horizon with the age of the trees. This is personal not geographical, he is emotionally connected to this land and its trees.



(1) Berger John & Mohr, Jean (1967) A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor. (Originally published by Penguin Books in 1967; this edition published by Canongate Books 2016) London: Canongate

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