Kate Bellis: Photographer

Photographer Kate Bellis, pictured, has been recording intimate life stories from the heart of Derbyshire for getting on for 20 years.

She has been busy chronicling a rural way of life under threat, before it disappears altogether, and has captured many heart-stirring images along the way.

The 46-year-old who grew up on a small farm in Devon, moved to Nottingham at the age of 17 to study photography at Nottingham Trent University and then after winning the Fuji Award of the Observer Young Photojournalist of the Year competition embarked on several years travelling the world from China and Tibet to India, Uganda and Kurdistan while filing pictures and features to many national newspapers and magazines.

“I was almost always working in a harsh environment where people and cultures were in some way under threat and they always had a strong relationship with the land around them. “I love story telling and I have always been interested in people. I look for the very human stories wherever I am working,” she explained.

Towards the end of the 1990s she and her partner the zoologist Professor Karim Vahed, who now works at the University of Derby, decided to settle down in Derbyshire.

They first lived at Abney near Hathersage and for the last 16 years they have made their home in a stone cottage hidden away at of the bottom of a steep footpath on the side of a hill on the edge of Bolehill.

The couple and their young son Gabriel are surrounded by nature and their own menagerie of pets and livestock but it is her neighbours and the other people in the community who interest Kate the most.

“This is the perfect place for a photographer and zoologist to live,” said the beaming Kate as she put the kettle on the stove. “We are surrounded by everything we love and are not far from Wirksworth which is an amazing community where families who go back generations are living side by side with a new generation of artists and artisans who have moved to the area.

“I soon realised I didn’t have to travel the world to find those intimate human stories. They were here right on my doorstep.

“When I was travelling I spent great deal of time actually living in communities and building up trust with people, so that eventually my camera was hardly noticed and I was able to capture them naturally.

“It is the same here. Over the years I have formed many relationships with the people living in the heart of this community and they trust me and my camera. Trust like that is not given easily and I want to respect it with my work.”

In the past Kate has concentrated a lot of her work on the resilience of hill farmers struggling from one generation to the next to make a living out of their challenging surroundings.

But when she become a mother to Gabriel her own life, and what she was free to do, changed so she began to focus on other aspects of the community.

Imprints, a visual story of the people she has met, was an exhibition launched at the Wirksworth Festival last year and accompanied by a book Imprints: Photographs of Wirksworth and These Hills.

“Now I am a mother I can’t just disappear off for days or weeks and so my work has become more personal.

“I like to capture life around me as it happens and sometimes that has meant pictures have been taken on my iPhone. It is always with me, even when I am not officially working, and that has enabled me to get some really great images,” she explained.

In her latest portfolio of black and white images there are processions, weddinwgs, children playing at the school fair, audiences at landmark events and even people with their dogs and cats.

“All life is here – it is vital that it is recorded before it changes forever. If I can do that I will have achieved what I set out to do,” she said.

An exhibition of Kate’s work can be seen at the Peak District Photography Gallery, upstairs at the Bakewell Visitor Centre, from May 17-June 28.

She is also working on a major exhibition for the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery in 2018 which will be entitled Pulse: Stories from the Heart of Derbyshire which will include not only her pictures but also poetry by Lucy Peacock, film by Gavin Repton and sculpture by Sally Matthews, who Kate collaborated with on a previous project called Gathering.

For more information about her work go to http://www.katebellis.com

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