The story so far.. Receiving the St Hugh's Foundation award gave me 'permission' to spend some time on a theme of personal importance. That of our place in the Holderness landscape. As an artist, I've worked on projects for and with others, but until 2010 I didn't have a portfolio of my own work.
I had begun to photograph the coastline of East Newton, near Aldbrough as a college project. It was this that gave me the inspiration and desire to spend more time looking at, and absorbing the atmosphere of this landscape. Applying to St Hugh's in 2016 enabled me to do this.
When I was awarded the fund, I began to look more in depth at the surrounding area, gradually travelling further afield, drawn to an area called Sunk Island to the south of the family farm. The landscape there echoed the landscape of my youth, but more so. With huge open views, the flat land and big skies I have come to love. These views are framed beautifully through the lens, but more than this the uncluttered view touches something deep within me.
Holderness and the East Riding is an area, I feel, often overlooked. With a low population and the mainly coastal tourist resorts, rural areas are often bypassed by visitors travelling through the port of Hull. Generally people head inland, or as I say to the coast. In a way I am glad of this, but in another way, I wanted to draw others into the beauty of this area. Hills and mountains are beautiful and I will never tire of them, but there is something to be said about seeking and finding the beauty where we live. Travelling in this landscape with little to obstruct the view of the horizon, the fields, sky and clouds releases a profound emotion within. And a chance to 'be'.
As someone who grew up and worked on the family farm, I have experienced so many shifts in the life of the farm, once a thriving albeit small, farm with animals and a predominantly arable business, the farm's purpose and direction has undergone many changes since my father moved to East Newton in 1966. Since the early 2000's there has been an investment in renewable energy on a scale not usually tackled by a small farmer. The family also runs a quiet caravan and tourer site. The animals have gone and the arable business continues however it is not the main priority of the farm as it once might have been. As with many small farming business' there has been an emphasis on diversification.
Aspects of this diversification have impacted seriously on the life of the family. Not to be overlooked in our daily lives, nor in the 'life' of the St Hugh's fund. We are living in a time of incredible change, this change is not always welcome or easy to live with.
Some of my fathers peers lives have changed too, it is not an unusual thing for farmers to continue to be involved in a family farm long after the traditional retirement age. My father at age 84 is still involved in the daily life of the farm, handling the delivery of spare parts for the machinery part of the business, and I know there are times when he would like not to be involved in the nitty gritty and have an opportunity to hang up his metaphorical work clothes and just 'be'.
This has been an interesting and at times difficult aspect of the project. The desire to record my father's life and all that surrounds him, has meant that I am also recording the events and external influences that are impacting our lives. I knew this could pose a difficulty, as I would be personally involved, though I also knew having a personal connection offered a unique opportunity. The journey of managing this has at times been tough. The very reason for wanting to record life in the here and now, being the most difficult to handle physically and emotionally. Yet the landscape offers solace. As it has to many others through the generations. And as the time has passed I have begun to look to the essence of the landscape, for example the ground beneath my feet as I walk. The soil, the grass, the crops and the resulting harvest. There has been an element of change within me, from looking outward at the wide open skies and horizons to the textures, and the detail of what farmers produce to looking down and perhaps within, returning to the introspective.
Going out and about in this landscape I have met a variety of people. Travelling with dad on most outings. At the Holderness Threshermens threshing day near Welwick in the summer of 2017, on a glorious summer day, when the wheat shone golden in the summer sun and the skies were pure blue, I met Pete and Mary. A couple who have lived and worked in Sunk Island all their lives. They invited us to their home to talk about their life in Sunk Island. Specifically I was keen to visit a wildlife area that Pete and his work colleagues had developed along the side of the River Humber. It was of interest, firstly because it was their work, and secondly because it was to be a casualty of a proposed EU directive to flood the northern banks of the River Humber to compensate for the industrial development of the south bank. Pete took us there, to an area not accessible to the public, and as it happens, situated on the Greenwich Meridian Line. We were the only three people, Pete, dad and I, for at least a mile in every direction. The place was settled and quiet other than the buzz of insects, birds and a slight breeze through the trees. I could sense the quiet sadness and frustration coming from Pete, who had invested time and I felt something of himself in this wildlife haven.
Politics has become interwoven in this project. Farms are often buffeted by changes of government and their policies. Pete's story was a prime example of this.
The more I have travelled with my father the more I have realised how many people he knows. The farming community, though spread across the miles is a small one. In days gone by most farmers would connect through weekly markets, and so would get to know farmers from a wide area. These local markets no longer exist, but the knowledge carries on.
Over the past months dad has written about his life. Bringing to life aspects of his past I knew nothing of. In his own words, we all have a story. I am including some of his words here.
"I was born in 1934 at Smithy Briggs, a farm house belonging to the Burton Constable estate. I was delivered by a visiting midwife, in those days midwives would stay with the family expecting a child, and then move on to the next family. Before me and just along the lane another baby was delivered by the midwife, that baby was a relative of mine, Sheila Porter, and the midwife came straight from there. I don't know how this was funded, who paid for this service? Something perhaps someone could answer for me. I was the middle child of three, with an older brother and a younger sister. We grew up on the farm, learning to look after the livestock and the landwork from my father who was a tenant farmer."
More of dads story will be included in a book, along with his family and my more recent photographs.
In February 2017, my father contacted the editor of the BBC's Countryfile programme to raise the topic of land and drainage using Sunk Island as an example of historical reclamation, inspired by our visits to the area. A consequence of this, and an unexpected one, was that I became involved, in wanting to support dad's point I sent some of my Sunk Island photographs to the editor. Sadly dad's argument for drainage was not of interest, but the area was. Much to dad's chagrin! The editor was drawn to the area and its history, so much so that they started to develop a feature for the programme. It took me by surprise that my work was to be featured on the programme. We gathered information so we could create a fully rounded family story featuring dad's cousin Albert and his early life at Sands Farm, Cherry Cobb, an area on the edge of Sunk Island. The highlight for me was that Albert was able to visit the farm he grew up on and left at the age of sixteen, for the first time in sixty five years. We could see how much it meant to him. Albert also enjoyed meeting John Craven, a favourite TV personality of his. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the film crew were wonderful, making it easier for me to cope with a fever and the horizontal Holderness wind. We were supplied wth a copy of the aired programme.
Hubert Nicholson and Sunk Island 18th November 2017.
I was contacted by Dr Jane Thomas, Head of the Creative Writing Department at Hull University with a request to use one of my images of Sunk Island for the 2017 Being Human festival. The theme of the Festival was 'Lost and Found'. Jane had found one of my images online following the feature on the BBC's Countryfile programme on April 9th 2017, and she felt it fit the theme. I was delighted to supply an image and also to take part in the day facilitated by Jane and her colleague Dr Bryony
Rural Life. A work in progress
Project: Documenting farming practices in Poland, Spain, Scotland and East Yorkshire.
Selected images exhibited at 'World Skills 2012' Birmingham NEC November 2012
Land & Sea, Glebe House, East Newton Aldbrough, images featuring the East Riding, Holderness and coastline.
Into the Blue and Beyond, Artfuel, Portland Place Doncaster from August 10th until 6th September 2013
Land and Sea Bridlington Spa, Cafe Gallery. 1st - 24th December 2013
Land & Sea at the Triton Gallery, Sledmere. 2016.
Land & Sea in the marquee. East Newton, Aldbrough 2015.
Land & Sea, garden shed pop up. Holderness Road, Hull 2016.
Selected images of Sunk Island at the Sunk Island Heritage Centre, 13th May 2018.
The Land that connects us, East Newton June 2018.
To develop my focus on the Holderness area through photography.
To record aspects of the Holderness landscape for exhibition and a book.
To record aspects of Jack Caley's life to include in a book and in my photography.
To travel and meet other local farmers, to interview and photograph on the farms.
To be led by events and circumstance as to who to photograph, work in an unbiased way?