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Life In A Somerset Landscape

A Somerset Photography project started back in 2012.

I started Life in a Somerset Landscape as a personal project with the aim to capture various people and wildlife in the Somerset landscape.

The images are inspired by the county I grew up and in the landscape where I started my Photography journey back in the late 1980’s.

I’ve always been drawn and somewhat intrigued by the history of the land and the people who work it and wildlife that lives in it.

The images here are approached by me either by simply documenting what I discover while others are created to produce a vision I have for that particular location or person within it.

The project continues to evolve and grow into some exciting and unexpected areas.

In 2021 Somerset Life magazine started publishing parts of the project each month in the magazine.

Ive also been approached to tour part of the project around many venues in Somerset starting in March 2021.

More information to follow.

Do you know of someone or somewhere in Somerset that you feel should be included? Please email me and let me know. [email protected]

Legion of the Stag, Somerset Medieval Fighting Group

A few days ago I completed another shoot for my project Life In A Somerset Landscape.

I had been told about a ‪Medieval Fighting Group based in Ilminster Somerset that specialised in 12-14th century fighting ‬re-enactments.
This sounded a perfect fit for the project and so I made a call to a chap called who ran the group called James to have a chat.

James explained the re enactment group Legion of the Stag was formed in 1998 through his interests in martial arts and early period of sword training.
They mainly perform around the south west and south wales at various charity shows from the 12th to the 14th century period.
They also perform at local festivals, schools, and have been involved in T.V. and film work.

The shows we attend are entertaining but very educational too, from knight training  talks on the weapons through history,and cookery  in living history sections to blacksmithing, clothing and archery.
He finished up explaining that all their training is about martial arts, but also a lot of safety aspects are involved as their weapons are blunt but very real as I discovered while holding one of the swords during the shoot !

When I talk to people about a potential shoot my mind often tends to run away with itself creating a visual story from the information I’m being given.
Creating a story line helps build up the idea for the image or sequence of images much like when scripting a video shoot but I do admit to having to rein things back a little sometimes !

For this shoot the concept that I imagined was a group of mercenaries heading home from a campaign, travelling over a dank muddy winter Somerset landscape.
It so happened that the very same week as my phone conversation we had several days of frost and heavy mist roll into the area.
I decided this was fate telling me it was the perfect time to find a suitable backdrop for the shoot.

I could have really gone to town on the location for this image but as is often the case less is nearly always more in my opinion.
The simplicity of the muddy winter field with atmospheric mist and trees was the perfect landscape for the Legion to be resting on their journey.

Legion Of The Stag Facebook Page

Tom Dunbar Banjo Player

I photographed Tom in October 2015 near my studio based at Horton Manor Ilminster.

This is what he had to say about his life and love of the Banjo.

I’ve played music of one kind or another all my life. I had my first guitar at 6 years old. In 1958, my older brothers, who were in a skiffle group at the time, taught me my first chords.

I started performing at the age of 10 when I played a Cliff Richard song at a school event.

Growing up in the ’60s in Liverpool was the best time to hone my guitar skills as everyone was a budding rock star!!

It was when I was in my 50’s that I first picked up an old banjo after suffering a back injury which meant I was unable to work for several months. I was not very mobile so I started to learn how to play the banjo while being forced to sit in my living room for long stretches. Though it is a stringed instrument and being a guitarist helped, the technique and tuning are very different so it kept me occupied.

Since then the banjo has become my main instrument. I don’t know why but I just took to it, it felt right. I have been lucky to have performed in many places and for many happy occasions over the years meeting and getting to know lots of lovely people.

I often play with other musicians but have also been exploring the use of the banjo as a solo accompaniment instrument (Banjo/vocal as opposed to guitar/vocal) based loosely on the influence of Pete Seeger. Taking a modern song and singing it with a banjo accompaniment can give it a whole new feel.

Playing the banjo also led to my greatest joy, forming a ‘family’ band playing regularly with my son, daughter, and my brother, all of whom are accomplished musicians. Our music has mostly acoustic and blues roots, a far cry from the more commercial styles I used to play to bring in a little extra cash when I was bringing up my family.

My favorite venues to play are outdoor festivals and events. I often play the banjo while sitting in the garden. There is something about the sound of the instrument that suits the outdoors. It is an instrument that has changed very little in its basic design and sound throughout its history since being brought out of Africa to the Caribbean by early slaves. For me, it captures something natural and essential in its sound. In my late 60s now I am planning to move to a new home in the Forest of Dean. I am sure that my banjo will fit in very well there.

Good King Hal

Mike Farley was one of the first people I photographed for this project  way back in 2013.

Mike is an ex stand up comedian who since 2004 spends his working life as a full-time Henry VIII impersonator.

He can be found at many historical  events across the U.K. and has appeared on numerous television programmes such as Children In Need, The One Show, Have I Got News For You,Good Morning Britain to name a few.

In between much fun and laughter I managed to captured these images of him at The National Trust’s Barrington Court in Somerset.

Mike website can be found here

SMALL AND SWEET, CREST CYDER FARM SOMERSET

Chris And Carole Brown run a small family Cider Farm from their home in North Curry Somerset.
Their daughter Alice contacted me after seeing my request online for people for my project Life In A Somerset Landscape

 

Being a courteous chap I’m always aware not to take up too much of peoples time or be too much of an interruption to whatever they need to be doing.
This probably stems from shooting my corporate work where you are indeed imposing to some degree and need not to faff around but simply get the subject captured with the least fuss as possible.

The Brown’s like everyone I’ve shot for the project were a lovely family and full of passion for what they were doing.
I think they probably picked up on my excitement for the location and it’s history and I reckon I could have stopped there shooting for a week without overstaying my welcome…maybe!

I didn’t intrude that long but did shoot a lot more images than normal as the light was too beautiful to drag myself away from.
In fact every-time I shut the camera off to call it a day I’d spot something else and after the 3rd or 4th time even I got fed up with myself.

The Brown’s have kindly invited me back to the farm in a couple of weeks to photograph or just simply watch them press the apples in their historic barn complete with their old oak cider press.

Website Crest Cyder 

WW2 Harley Davidson Dispatch Rider

Having heard many stories from my parents about living through WW2 I was drawn to capturing some images from that era.

Through some research I managed to find a guy called Emnuel Trainor aka Manny who does WW2 Re enactments all over Europe and had large collection of WW2 memorabilia (and that’s a huge understatement !) who was also located not far from me.

As expected Manny was very passionate about the era and travelled to many of the re-enactments both here and abroad during the summer months.During our telephone chat he mentioned the authentic 750cc 1943 Harley Davidson he had and a U.S infantryman’s uniform as worn in the D-Day invasion.

It was at that point that the image came together at least in my head.
We decided that we would create a story where a U.S Army Despatch Rider from headquarters company is delivering messages to and from various units in France during D-Day.

The setting would be a forest and so my next job was to find the location and arrange the logistics of getting Manny and his bike there.

A week later the pre production was finalised and the shoot day arranged and myself and my assistant met Manny at Staple Hill Forest Nr Culmhead with a van full of props including a genuine M1, semi-automatic, Garand rifle (deactivated of course !) and set up the scene.

Manny was fantastic to work with bringing authentic maps, rifles,etc giving us plenty of options for many variations I may want to try.

As my work is about quiet moments I worked around the narrative of the rider taking a rest from riding on his dangerous assignment.

 

Kit List

  • 1943 Harley Davidson, Model is a WLA 750cc.
  • US infantryman’s uniform as worn in the DDay invasion. Consisting of HBT(Herring Bone Twill) Trousers, a wool shirt, and a warm weather jacket. 
  • Headwear, is a standard M1 steel helmet.
  • Personal weapon, is an M1, semi-automatic, Garand rifle.
  • A Gasmask hangs from a bag, which is attached to the front of the bike, with personal sleeping system is on the back of the bike. It consists of a small tent, and a wool blanket. I also have a raincoat tucked up under it all.
  • Drinking from an army issue canteen and looking at a captured German map.

STEVE TRIMS SHOW SHEEP

Steve Trims Show Sheep..yeah try saying it after a couple of glasses of Scrumpy!

Liz Steve Rowe’s wife messaged me to see if Steve’s slightly unusual passion might be of interest to my Life In A Somerset Landscape Project and of course I was intrigued to find out more and we agreed to arrange something.


I had to wait a few weeks before a date could be arranged for the shoot due to my and Steves Calendars not aligning too well but it was worth the wait.

Steve and Liz own a smallholding in a village not too far from me called Stembridgehere in Somerset.
The location was lovely and after introductions a brief tour and a chat I decided to set up at the entrance to their small barn.
Lighting was ideal with some diffused sunlight backlighting the scene which is my favorite albeit sometimes tricky light to work in.
After a few test shots, I formulated a plan to create the image I wanted and we brought in the first of two sheep that were to model.
I always want my cake and eat it and after spotting the slightly used tractor in the field behind I politely asked Steve if we could move everything a couple of inches to adjust my composition.

 

Steve has been shearing show sheep for 10 years and the awards adorning the barn is a testament to his success.
He explained to me that shearing was used years ago to sculpt the sheep’s wool and to make them look more muscular at the market and help get farmers the best prices.
These days of course it is a dying art.
The sheep themselves were also in threat of being lost to history as not so long ago were a rare breed.
Steve has bred the Coloured Ryeland for several years now and thankfully stocks are now once again healthy.

Once again I was blessed with meeting some lovely people in a great location and came away very thankful for their time.

 

Willow Weaver Chris Beck

I’ve captured people in the Willow industry before for my Life In A Somerset Landscape project.
Chris doesn’t work for a company he is an independent artist working from home for a small selection of close clients.

His modest but well-stocked workshop is located in his garden in Stoke St Gregory near Taunton Somerset where he has lived all his life.

It’s here that he creates baskets, coffins and other bits of furniture from the locally grown Somerset willow.

He started to learn his craft at the age of 15 which he told me equates to over 41 years and it showed when I watched his masterfully with ease work the willow.
Watching him work was an absolute treat photographing and chatting to him a privilege.

See more of Chris work at his Facebook Page

 

STORYTELLING IN SOMERSET

In early August I posted out on social media that I was looking for people to capture lifestyle portraits of for my project Life In A Somerset Landscape.

The response was impressive and I found myself having a difficult time responding to everyone that reached out but Im glad to say I did out of simple courtesy.
In August shortly after my social media appeal, I captured Melanie Deegan but since then It’s been a slow burner arranging shoots in between what has been a very busy summer with assignments.

Getting dates set was also difficult due to COVID but slowly everything started to align.
This last two weeks I’ve managed three shoots including this one of Sarah Mooney a storyteller based near Glastonbury.

Sarah trained as an actress appearing on stage in productions like Clockwork Orange.
It was on stage delivering the line “Once Upon A Time” that she discovered her calling as a storyteller.
25 years on she still has the love of telling tales and is the Storyteller on residence for Roald Dahl Foundation.
She is the 11th Bard Of Glastonbury which is announced at Glastonbury’s market cross on the equinox each year and also appears now and again as the Witch Of Wookey Hole.

The location for the shoot was a 14th-century Tithe Barn at Pilton near Glastonbury which is best known for the location of the Glastonbury festival.
It’s a location that Sarah knows well and served as the perfect backdrop for the shoot complete with some great September light.

Find out more about Sarah at

www.sarahmooney.co.uk

MELANIE DEEGAN SCULPTOR

After quite a large gap August 2020 saw me continue with my project Life In A Somerset Landscape. The first person I captured was an amazing sculptor called Melanie Deegan based at an old chicken farm near Langport.

Her studio is a very simple and rather cool old Wessex Water van (well the rear end of it) situated outside an old chicken barn.

Experimenting with different materials and techniques Melanie has developed a method of working that lends itself to the creation of dynamic physical designs. Using wire and steel to draw the image in 3D this sketch is then developed to add the texture and detail that will evolve into a finished sculpture. Often resulting in energetic and fragmented forms Melanie uses space to invite the viewer to engage, using their imagination to fill the void.

The next stage of the process involves mixing textured materials such as cotton or jute scrim with either a high-quality plaster or water-based resin then applying this to the wire surface in small amounts slowly building up layers. These can be cut back where needed and further layers applied. Once the sculpture layers have been completed a final thin coat of resin/plaster is added to the whole area and once dry some areas are highlighted with a metallic finish to emphasis the texture of the surface. Melanie also works with other metals including casting in pewter or bronze. 

Sculptures are sold through galleries, exhibition and private commissions. Melanie also runs sculpture workshops for art groups, schools and other organisations.

www.melaniedeegan.com

Mud, Nuclear Power & The Mud Horse Fishermen

Brendan & Adrian Sellick who are father & son and at the time of me photographing in 2012 were the last two people still Mud Horse fishing a stones throw from Hinkley Point B Nuclear Power Station.

Having lived close to the coast most my life (mostly on the Bristol Channel) I know how dangerous this stretch of coast can be.
Firstly it has the second fastest fall and rise of tide in the world plus and more appropriate here the mud banks can be like quicksand.
The fishermen place their nets 2 miles out over the treacherous mud banks of the Bristol Channel. They use a wooden sledge known as a Mud Horse to help them not only carry back their catch but more importantly aid them to glide over the thick treacherous mud and not sink into it.

Adrian explained that the Mud Horse is stored about 1 mile out onto the mud banks of the channel weighted down by rocks as is to cumbersome to drag out.

We jumped into his 4×4 and started to drive cautiously over the mud which I have to admit was rather unnerving after the scores of cars I’ve seen submerged on this coastline by tourists driving on the beaches and ignoring the warnings.

I had as I always do planned to use my tripod but it quickly became obvious that I would have to go out my comfort zone and hand hold the camera.

Adrian directed me to where was safe to walk and pointed out the areas that would have me knee deep in mud which was a worry with £6,500 worth of camera around my neck !

I directed Adrian where I wanted him and set about shooting.

I retired with Adrian back to his rustic fish shop where I finished by shooting some headshots of him and his charismatic father Brendan.

 

 

PH Coate & Son Willow Growers

PH Coate & Son are Willow growers in Stoke St Gregory near Taunton.

Coates aka Coates English Willow was established here way in 1819 and supply many famous brands like Fortnum & Mason with their Willow products.

I had visited here several times in 2014 and the Coates kindly allowed me access to capture some images for the project.

Pictured are Matthew Godfrey weaving Hurdles, John Dyer and Dave Tottle stripping the bark, and John Dyer and Malcolm Musgrove harvesting a late Willow crop due to the devastating floods of 2014.

You can see on these last two harvesting images the waterline where the flood water reached. This is illustrated by the pale bleached look at the base of the willow.