It was, appropriately enough, a poetry reading at The Leeds Library back in 2017 that brought poet Emma Storr and photographer Bob Hamilton together.
It was the first time that Hamilton had been to such an event and it was a fortuitous meeting. The two got chatting and five years later the result is Offcumdens, a delightful book published this week that combines beautiful poetry and striking monochrome images inspired by the landscapes and people of Yorkshire.
“I was really taken with Bob’s black and white photographs of Yorkshire right from the start,” says Storr. “And then later when we got to know each other a bit better I thought it would be nice to write some poems inspired by a selection of his images. I have always enjoyed having the stimulation of a picture or an object to spark ideas for poetry and because Bob’s photos were so varied it allowed me to experiment and to write very varied poems.”
It certainly is a diverse collection. Subjects include appreciations of natural landscapes such as the Cow and Calf rocks, the hills around Haworth and the Wolds Way, explorations of buildings like the Hyde Park Picture House and The Leeds Library and observations of commuters waiting for a bus on a rainy day, a city centre busker and elderly former mill girls reminiscing about their youth.
Both originally from London, hence the book’s title, Storr and Hamilton’s genuine affection for their adopted home is warmly expressed through their words and pictures. “It is our own very personal take on Yorkshire,” says Storr. “It really is the most wonderful place.”
Working on Offcumdens has been a fruitful collaborative project which has developed organically over the past few years. “Most of the poems were inspired by Bob’s pictures but some of them are based on shared experiences of walking expeditions which is nice and occasionally there were poems I had written long before I met Bob and he took a photograph to match it.”
Hamilton describes their working method as “a mixture of serendipity and spontaneity with a bit of alchemy running through it”. For his part he has found pairing his images with poetry to be an enriching experience. “I find that looking at photographs on their own without context can be fairly meaningless, so the poem really adds to the image and gives something extra to the viewer.”
In addition to Storr’s lyrical interpretations, there are also, satisfyingly, extensive notes at the back of the book which explain a bit about the process and some of the history and thinking behind each poem and picture. There is a lovely generosity about this and it does offer further insight for the reader. “We felt is was an important thing to do,” says Storr. “And we are hoping that people who might not normally read poetry will find it accessible.”
Their collaboration continues – Hamilton’s camera goes everywhere with him while Storr always has her notebook with her; you never know when poetic inspiration might strike, or the perfect image present itself.
Offcumdens, published by Fair Acre Press, is out now. A selection of photographs from the book are on display at Ilkley Manor House on March 26&27.
Emma Storr will be reading her poetry there on March 26, 3-4pm. ilkleymanorhouse.org