Photographer Amy Bateman lives at her family farm, Croft Foot, on the edge of the Lake District, Cumbria. She chatted to Northern Soul about the inspiration for her latest exhibition and the accompanying book, Forty Farms.
Forty Farms, a major free exhibition currently adorning the walls of the Gallery at Rheged, near Penrith, is the result of a momentous journey for Amy Bateman across the length and breadth of Cumbria which began in March 2021.
The photographs captured by Bateman tell the compelling stories of 40 farmers as they go about their day-to-day lives in one of the UK’s best loved mountain landscapes, the Lake District. Along the way, Bateman reveals compelling human-interest stories during what was – and is – a period of profound change for British farming.
In the exhibition and accompanying book, we journey across Cumbria from the Herdwick-grazed Lake District commons to the open expanses of the Solway marshes; from isolated farmsteads unchanged for generations to businesses leading the charge in innovation and sustainable farming; from world-class sheep breeders to award-winning food producers.
Bateman’s photographic journey is a little more unusual than most, beginning just five years ago, but even though she’s fairly new to professional photography, that hasn’t stopped her making a success of things.
She says: “As far back as I can remember I’ve always had an interest in taking photographs, keeping a camera close at hand pretty much all of the time, but my career path was very different then because I was a fully qualified physiotherapist with my own practice in Kendal.”
Her outlook changed considerably with the arrival of her three children. Bateman wanted to spend more time with them, which became increasingly difficult, so she decided to put her career on hold and stay at home helping out on the family farm, with the thought of returning to work once the kids were older.
Her plans changed in 2015 when Colin, her husband, gave her some gift vouchers to enrol in an adult education class in photography at the local arts centre in Kendal.
“I remember I was hooked right from the start. I was totally and utterly fascinated by what I could potentially create with that little black box. It was incredibly liberating and gave me a totally new focus. The course gave me the skills and know how to be able to turn off the ‘auto’ setting on my camera, but all I had to do after that was to try and find my own niche.”
Her inspiration came a short while later when she discovered the work of Yann Arthus-Bertrand, a French environmentalist, activist, journalist, film director and photographer, particularly a book he created between 1990 and 2005 called Good Breeding. For this book, Bertrand photographed agricultural fairs in France, England, and Argentina, examining the relationships between spectacular prize-winning examples of domestic livestock and the people who raise them.
Bateman recalls: “After seeing that book I began experimenting on the family farm, capturing images that told stories, highlighting the changing seasons, and examining how they impacted on the landscape, animals and people. I remember I became utterly addicted and ever so slightly obsessed with Yann’s work, the techniques he used, his lighting, and his seemingly effortless shot composition.”
Like many people, Bateman uses social media, especially to share her images. “I found a brilliant community on Twitter where I got lots of feedback on my pictures and found it hugely stimulating and inspiring. I don’t shoot specifically for social media, but use it primarily as a way of developing my style, improving my technique and generally getting better.”
With ever growing confidence, Bateman started entering competitions with her “nicely different” images and had a lot of success, which spurred her on and confirmed that her decision to be a commercial photographer was a good choice.
A career-changing milestone was achieved when she won the Rural Life category at the 2019 British Life Photography awards with her image Intensive Care at Lambing Time and went on to scoop overall winner that year too, collecting the award for British Life Photographer of the Year.
It’s now more than five years since Bateman embarked on her photographic journey. Since then she has become a full-time commercial photographer, capturing compelling images of products, people and places across the UK. Alongside that she also runs Farm Photography Tours from the family farm, where people can join her to learn how to capture a flavour of life on a Lakeland Farm, while staying in one of the two glamping pods.
Now Bateman’s latest body of work, Forty Farms, offers a unique insight into the everyday lives, fears and hopes of 40 farmers through photography, film and words.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book containing more than 500 photographs. There are numerous contributors, including bestselling author and farmer James Rebanks, three-star Michelin chef and farmer Simon Rogan of the Cartmel restaurant L’Enclume, veteran farmer Jon Watson who stewards one of Lakeland’s most recognisable farms, and Susan Aglionby who has helped to educate hundreds of young people at her farm on a section of Hadrian’s Wall and from Tebay’s Low Chapel farm.
All images copyright Amy Bateman. Main image: Rosie’s lamb, Croft Foot farm
The Forty Farms exhibition is on until January 4, 2023. For more information, click here.
To purchase the Forty Farms Book, priced at £29.90, click here.
To find out more about Amy Bateman, click here.