Perhaps the idea of street photography in the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District sounds odd. After all, our experience of the street as a medium is shaped by the photographers who made their names in the City – Joel Meyerowitz, Vivian Meir, Bruce Gilden, Diane Arbus, all of whom found their subjects in the richness, cultural diversity and explosion of difference that cities like New York and Chicago can provide. Here it’s possible to melt in to the anonymity of the context, where the everyday, the strange, the out of place and the touristy become a flux in which to observe and be absorbed.
What then of the backwaters of Northern England as a venue for street photography? Well for a start I’m not claiming either the talent or insight of these photographers, and evidently the cities on my doorstep offer different challenges to either New York or Chicago. How then, and why, might street photography be practiced in the ‘peripheral’ spaces – the towns and villages – and what would motivate such a desire in the first place?
I suppose part of the interest here stems from the challenge to capture something of the everyday rhythms of a life lived where there are bigger gaps between the people, although they often claim to have closer ties. Wandering the streets of these towns and villages with a camera draws attention, speculation and interest. As well as the more familiar mixture of distrust or concern you can occasionally find in the City. It’s fine if you’re pointing a wide lens at Malham Cove, posing outside a quaint pub, or creatively blurring a waterfall with a slow shutter speed. Take photographs in a market place however, or raise your camera in the farm shop, and you are evidently out of place.
If you want to avoid setting things up, which is of course anathema to most street photographers, then either you work fast or become prepared for the obvious awkwardness that can follow. Smiling lots helps and having a smaller camera makes for more intrigue than insults.
As in all photography of this type the enjoyment is in the attempt to create images that might suggest or reveal stories, whether of familiar routines or moments of discord, the in between spaces, the generational contrasts and the lived traditions.
Most of us will inevitably continue with photographs of the limestone pavement hewn from the sides of the three peaks, or the crooked trees and doomed lambs, amidst the leading lines of the dry stone walls. Maybe it’s best then that these quiet streets are left undisturbed, but for the tourists taking selfies during a scarecrow festival, or perhaps those visiting the artisan Cheese shop, a seemingly ubiquitous requirement for any self-respecting Yorkshire village.
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