Colin Shaw: Peak District photographer

Challenging the romantic view of the landscape and those who work within it is the raison d’etre of photographer Colin Shaw.

He is a strong-minded man who doesn’t have much time for those who want to prettify the countryside and make it something it never was.

That’s not to say he advocates the wholesale destruction of the land, quite the opposite. He has spent most of his 65 years living in small rural villages and appreciates everything that is beautiful about nature.

“I would argue that we need a view of landscape that is not based on an idealised image of what it should be.

“When I moved to Eyam in 2003 I wanted to photograph my new surroundings, but for several years did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to say, but I did know that the Peak District landscape was more than just a pretty view,” said Colin, pictured right.

Three years ago he was finally inspired by the view from a local track. On one side there were amazing views over the hills and the other way there were deep quarries and large cement and lime works.

“In one place it was possible to see both sides of the Peak District and my new project was born. It aims to produce another view – images of sites normally thought to despoil the landscape.

“That is what influences my photography – a relationship with the land that includes all aspects of life and not just the view.

“The activities of people leave marks on the landscape, often subtle sometimes brutal. The common factors being that people have always interacted with their surroundings and that landscape is constantly changing.

“Industry on this scale has a huge visual impact which many do not like when they expect to see perfect landscape.

“It is a strange irony that quarrying in the Peak District is inevitable as the rock that formed the hills is used to build the infrastructure of modern life. For every new house, road, railway or shopping centre there is a corresponding hole in the ground.”

The stunning photographs, being exhibited at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery until April 10, were originally taken for Colin’s MA in photography (for which he studied at Nottingham Trent University – and received a distinction) but he wanted them to have a wider audience.

“I made an early decision to make the images accessible to a wide audience and decided on large, unframed prints mounted on Dibond which is  an aluminium substrate.

“The idea being to remove as many barriers as possible between the print and the audience which I hope will lead to greater engagement with the images.

“By producing large colour photographs (they are 120cm x 80cm) I want to engage people and suggest links between the source of raw materials used in the construction industry and the landscape that provides them.”

The irony is that in actual fact the quarried landscape is in itself quite beautiful.

“When working on the project I definitely discovered a stark beauty in the colours and the forms of the quarries. It was not something I was expecting and many people who have seen the photographs have commented on it.”

Colin grew up in a small Warwickshire village in the 1950s and 60s and spent his summers roaming the countryside only returning home when hungry. His father was a farm worker and passed on his knowledge of the rural dos and don’ts.

When Colin started out as a photographer he turned to the land as his inspiration and he completed a large scale documentation of agricultural work, showing the hidden face of agriculture, which produced two touring exhibitions and a book.

Following that came a project about the building of the M40 through the land he loved.

M40 Warwickshire was shown at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and was intended to be a realistic look at the rural life being destroyed by so-called progress.

Both of these projects are now housed at the Museum of English Rural Life which is part of the University of Reading.

To find out more about Colin and his work go to http://www.colinshaw.co.uk

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