Yorkshire Dales commons stories told at Hawes museum

Shepherds meeting on the summit of Ingleborough at the start of a sheep gather in November by Rob Fraser.

Written and photographic portraits of the farmers, gamekeepers and conservationists who work on Ingleborough Common, Grassington Common and Brant Fell Common near Sedbergh are being exhibited at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.

Labour of Love is a new exhibition by photographer Rob Fraser and writer Harriet Fraser.

They run an environmental art and research practice near Kendal.

The exhibition presents stories they have gathered during two years of meeting people who farm and manage commons in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Dartmoor, the Lake District and the Shropshire Hills.

Labour of Love at the Dales Countryside Museum will run until 8 September.

It is being staged as part of Our Common Cause: Our Upland Commons, a three-year project led by the charity, Foundation for Common Land.

As well as Rob and Harriet Fraser’s work, there are wild boar bones from Ingleborough and items from the museum’s permanent collection to see.

During a lecture at the museum in April, organised by Friends of the Dales Countryside Museum, Harriet and Rob revealed their approach to their Commons Stories/Labour of Love project.

Harriet said:  “For commoners, there is a lot of uncertainty and threats to this way of life – and we’ve been cataloguing that.

“At the heart of our work is meeting people and listening to people.

“So I’m out and about with my microphone, Rob with his camera. And we learn from everyone we meet, whether we’re on a peat bog, or on the fell looking at dung beetles, or talking about management of the sheep, or talking to somebody from the National Trust about how to deal with the challenges we are facing.

“And we always have a bit of laugh.  You’re never far away from a chuckle when you’re out with farmers.

“Although the areas are geographically spread across England, a lot of the farmers know each other from the auction marts, from sheep and sharing bloodlines.”

Two of the standout stories presented at the exhibition are that of George Hare, gamekeeper on Grassington Moor, and of Adrian Shepherd, head of land management at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

In the lecture, Rob Fraser said of his photographic technique: “I enjoy making people feel comfortable in their own space, standing where they feel like they are part of that landscape – and then press the button.

“It’s normally about a half a second exposure on my large format plate camera. Just for that fleeting moment they look into the camera, they look at you, from where they are.

“We keep using the word privilege. But it has felt like a privilege to spend time with people who have got this much attachment to these spaces.”