Working the View

It is easy to think of the countryside as a natural place, one that changes only with the seasons , but in fact the British landscape has been shaped by the hands of man over centuries. This interference and the increasing demands on space, infrastructure, food production, and leisure activities, means that these fragile places need careful management to protect the landscape value, the unique floral and fauna, and ensure that people can sustainably visit, live, and work within them.

In remote spaces, often protected by acts of government by being given national park or area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) status, the volume of work needed to look after them is hidden behind the veil of timelessness. In actuality there is literally and army of people ensuring our beautiful countryside can be enjoyed, not only today but by future generations of families, holiday makers, farmers, landowners, and native species of plants and animals.

In the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Mark Butler and Sarah Butler, set out to capture the relationship these guardians have with the landscape they work in through a project called Working the View. Over 18 months Mark photographed their favourite views, while Sarah, a writer, interviewed them about their work and their thoughts on the Dales. The result was an exhibition and book with contributions from 42 people (including themselves) who work the view, including those who work or volunteer for the National Park Authority, Natural England, Woodland Trust, National Trust, Wildlife Trust, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, Yorkshire Dales River Trust, and Welcome to Yorkshire, as well as landowners, estate workers, farmers, drystone wallers, and shepherd[esse]s.

Mark showed an incredible amount of commitment, walking for miles to get to the nominated spot to take the photograph. He often revisited it too, taking photos at different times of day or year to try to capture the essence of that view, that sense of being there that can be so hard to translate to 2D.

At the exhibition, held at Craven Museum and Gallery in Skipton (16 May to 23 September 2013), some of the photographs transported you to hillsides far away – you could feel the chill of an autumn morning cloud inversion, or the last sun of the day on your face. With other photos you just drunk in the sheer scale of the fells and dales of the national park and its very special vernacular.

Sarah’s interviews put the photographs into context and gave a sense of the ‘to-do’ list the landscape gives its people. In the gallery you could also listen to short interviews Sarah made with the participants, which helped to give energy to the people behind the pictures. It was really nice to be able to see their portraits – to put a face to a name – which were shown with some information about their work and the view on the text panel next to the image.

My favourite photographs from the exhibition were the views of Cautley Crag (26), Wild Boar Fell at dawn (4), and Ingleborough in winter (33), all images that made use of scale, sunlight, and weather conditions to capture your imagination.

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There must be a great many challenges to a project like this. Mark’s kit was on display at the museum and the camera alone took up half of the display case – I dread to think what it was like to drag up to the tops. In addition there was no guarantee of finding a viewpoint, what looks good through eyes doesn’t always translate, plus Mark was using film so he had to trust what he was doing was working. Once up on the tops there may no be open access land or rights of way that would allow you to get to where a better photo may be taken, or the weather might make a sweeping landscape shot impossible. It’s little wonder than this was a long-term project.

Overall Working the View is an incredibly valuable project for not only highlighting the immense beauty of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, but also in highlighting conservation and countryside management issues, and hopefully raising awareness of the hardships faced by rural communities too. It shows how artistic endeavours can be an important part of what may seem like a very disparate area of work, engaging and informing a wider audience in a warm and relatable way.

Take part too: take a picture of your view from work and send it to museum@cravendc.gov.uk, post to their Facebook page, or tweet @CravenMuseum #YourView, along with your first name, location, and short description to get your picture featured on the digital frames in the exhibition.

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