Photographer Mark Denton tells Sarah Freeman about his mission to capture the beauty of the Yorkshire landscape.
In the foreground there’s a single stone barn. It’s set against a backdrop of lush rolling green hills and as the afternoon light fades the last of the sun shines through darkening clouds which are gathering for a sudden and inevitable downpour. As Mark Denton says, it doesn’t get more Yorkshire than this.
His image of Muker on a summer’s afternoon is just one of more than 60 which feature in his latest collection The Yorkshire Dales, a book which completes his photographic trilogy of the county having previously turned his lens on the coast and the moors and Wolds.
“When people think of Yorkshire, they think of the Dales, they think of the limestone pavements, of the dramatic waterfalls and of picturesque villages in dramatic countryside,” says Mark, who began work on the book seven years ago.
“The original plan was to bring it out after the book on the coast, but other commissions came in and the schedule got blown off course. It’s been a long time in the planning, so there is a real feeling of satisfaction now it’s finally in print.”
Mark has made a name for himself as a panoramic photographer using a special (and expensive) camera to capture elongated images. Many talented photographers have struggled to work with the technology, but Mark, who lives in Crakehall, near Bedale, was a natural from the start.
“It really allows you to interpret the landscape. I know some people say that it’s difficult to know what scene you’re actually shooting, but I’ve never found that. I have a panoramic shaped viewfinder, which I wander about with – honestly, it’s as simple as that.
“The only problem is the cost of film. It’s gone up so much in recent years from £1 a roll to £4.50 and bearing in mind you only get four shots per roll it’s pretty costly. That’s really why I’ve switched for the most part to using a digital camera. In itself it’s hideously expensive, but compared to what I’m saving in film, I’ll probably pay for it in three years.”
Mark’s Yorkshire trilogy has been something of a labour of love. While originally from Sunderland, he has lived for the best part of two decades in Yorkshire and the county is now his adopted home.
While his work has taken him around the country, producing panoramic collections for both London and Edinburgh he’s happiest out and about in Yorkshire.
“I’d done a number of different projects when it dawned on me that photographic books about this county sell as well as any other area in Britain. I’m lucky to have this countryside right on my doorstep, so I really don’t need to go anywhere else. Plus it’s cheaper on the petrol.
“There is no nicer feeling than putting your equipment in the back of the car and heading out to some remote corner of the Dales. If it’s winter, so much the better. Everything looks so different in the snow.
“Admittedly, in the depths of winter it can be tricky getting about, particularly last year when so many roads were closed, but that’s part of the challenge. Plus there’s always a farmer willing to push you out of drift.”
The book is divided into five geographical areas and takes in familiar landmarks like Bolton Castle and popular villages like Burnsall as well as more off-beat locations like Preston Scar and views of Penyghent from Batty Moss.
“If I could only ever see one view again, it would have to be Ribblehead. There’s just so much to see and every direction you look in, you see something different.
“There are not many places which in a few square yards can boast a viaduct, spectacular limestone pavements and views of the Three Peaks.”
Mark was inspired to take up panoramic photography after seeing the work of Scotland’s Colin Prior. Now one of the world’s leading landscape photographers, Prior has built a reputation for capturing images in what’s known as the golden hour at dawn and dusk.
“I am good friends with the Yorkshire landscape photographer Joe Cornish, I have been for years, but I didn’t want to replicate what he was doing. When I saw Colin’s work, everything fell into place. He uses a panoramic camera and he was producing exactly the kind of images that I wanted to take.”
Spending much of his time in the great outdoors has also awakened in Mark a passion for ensuring the protection of the natural landscape. While he admits he has never been a “tub thumping environmentalist” over the last few years he has become increasingly aware of the delicate balance which exists in some of the county’s most picturesque spots.
“I do think sometimes we are guilty of taking these treasured spots for granted,” he says. “We think they will be there forever, but the truth is that with climate change they might not be.”
And while his trilogy may be complete, Mark is not planning to turn his back or his camera lens away from Yorkshire just yet. “There is still so much I haven’t photographed,” he says. “I am hoping to put together a collection called the Best of Yorkshire, which as well as focusing on the countryside will also include images of towns and cities. There is so much variety in Yorkshire I think I could spend my entire career photographing it and still never get bored.”
The Yorkshire Dales by Mark Denton is published by Frances Lincoln Limited priced £16.99. To order a copy from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop call 01748 821122. The book will be launched at Crakehall village hall on May 26 where Mark will also be giving a free photographic demonstration from 3 to 5pm.