Sunday, 27 September 2015

Masham Sheep Fair

A day out at Masham Sheep Fair.

Time for a rant. Look away now..

While wandering around the sheep pens, I noticed a man wandering around occasionally snapping a shot with what looked like a Leica M9. And I got a bit closer and yes indeed, it was a Leica M9, and the man himself looked familiar.

I introduced myself. And very embarrassingly, I mistook him for Clive Limpkin, whose excellent book on Northern Ireland I read a while back. So there I was, rabbiting on about Northern Ireland, when in fact I did know who I was talking to: Ian Forsyth, whose work I do know and appreciate. His shots of South Gare have certainly made a lasting impression on me, and his is a style and philosophy of photography that I truly aspire to.

This isn't meant to sound as fawning as it probably does. I just like the fact that he is obviously a highly versatile photographer with an instinctive ability to take a good photo, no matter what he is taking a photo of.

But it is his subjects that I admire the most.

Right now, I find myself taking a lot of landscape photos. Because, simply, I find myself in places where those are the photos in front of me. But frankly, I find landscape photography rather dull, on the whole. Sure, sometimes you are presented (on a platter) with a landscape that begs to be photographed and would be a crime not to be, but apart from those ones, I don't care. I certainly don't care about "pretty". I don't care about sunsets or pretty colours, and I'm afraid to say that I think photographers who make their bread and butter from such things should be ashamed of themselves. I can imagine that kind of photographer: dates and times and places marked on their calendar, and along they scoot with their fancy gear and snap their shot and process it to death and people love it because it's pretty and colourful and because they have no sense of critical thought.

Harsh?

I would say not.

Because fifty years from now, nobody will give a shit. Landscapes? Sunsets? Rocks on a hillside? Seriously, who gives a fuck?

Ian Forsyth's photos of Masham Sheep Show 2015 (and hopefully to an extent mine) can be looked back on, decades from now, with interest. The people. The event. The place. The time. These are the things that really matter. Not rocks on a hillside with a sun setting behind them. Or yet another bloody photography of Dunstanburgh castle at sunrise from the same position that everybody goes to since Joe Cornish snapped it a while back. Seriously people, get a grip and get out there and see that there is a living, breathing world that is ready to be documented.

Masham Sheep Fair, 2015. Thirty year anniversary (I was surprised: I thought it had been going for hundreds of years..). Those children, those young farmers, they will one day be the pillars of their communities. Isn't it interesting to see them getting dragged around Masham marketplace by their sheep at the age of three? I think it is.

Documentary photography is certainly not the only kind of photography that I enjoy, or think is important. But it is the most important kind of photography, in my humble opinion. Documenting people, places, and events that are, of course, ephemeral (we are all ephemeral). A hundred years from now, a photograph of some rocks on a hillside at sunset will be an irrelevance. But a photograph of Masham Sheep Fair will be a fascinating insight into life and society in 2015. And this, in my humble opinion, is the true value of the medium of photography: those who can combine an artistic vision with a desire to document the mundane reality of our existence: struggles and triumphs and joy and pain.

If I can contribute to that in even a small way, I will feel I have succeeded as a photographer.

Basically, if somebody came up to me in the future and "recognised" me I would hope to hell that it would be because I had taken a photograph of something interesting, rather than another stupid landscape photograph of the Dales (no matter how "popular" it might have been). I hope Ian can understand what I mean by that..

Anyway... these shots were taken with a Pentax Q. Which hopefully is a demonstration that it's not all about the gear. (Though I probably would chew off a couple of toes for a Leica M9..)