Earth and light: Lucy Saggers’ photography

Artist Feature / KatherineCaddy / Yorkshire Art Journal
Bringing in the geese I

Lucy Saggers, Bringing in the Geese – Ampleforth, December 2013. Copyright the artist.

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Lucy Saggers is a documentary photographer based in North Yorkshire, working to capture the unique essence and narratives of the rural village of Ampleforth. For her final Yorkshire Art Journal article, Katherine Caddy explores Lucy’s work and story so far

They strike us with their luminous quality: rural homages in black and white, telling tales and capturing sincere moments otherwise passed by. Lucy Saggers’ depictions of Ampleforth are rich in narrative, communicating the essence of a single Yorkshire community. She is compelled to take photographs because she is acutely drawn to light, to shade and the qualities of the British landscape. Despite growing up for some time in a city, she is continually drawn to rural life and the natural world.

Lucy’s photographs are inherently natural – one feels their subjects are undisturbed, almost unaware of the camera. This marks the photographer’s skill as a portraitist. There is palpable honesty and a certain raw quality to these pieces. With her landscapes the photographer celebrates in monochrome the crisp, gleaming details found in the Yorkshire countryside. These are deep, often dark scapes, where we find bounteous soil, textural branches and weathered farmland structures, soaked by sunlight.

Seeking to capture the beauty in the everyday, Lucy sees the world through a lens. ‘Framing a scene is an instinctive reaction: I think it’s my way of processing and, I suppose, holding onto something.’  Her work is strongly influenced by the work of James Ravilious, co-author of The Heart of the Country, who was a family connection, having been taken in by her step-father when orphaned. ‘I was nine when, in 1980, the book was published, and I remember looking through it over and over, marvelling at the scenes he encapsulated, thinking how wonderful it was to be able to do that – not actually for a second imagining that I could.’ 

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Mr Burn the coal man- Coxwold- May 2014

Lucy Saggers, Mr Burn, the Coal Man – Coxwold, May 2014. Copyright the artist.

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This influence is evident in Lucy’s recent portraiture. Looking at Ravilious’ work, one finds the earthy warmth of North Devon: its tumbling farmland, golden light and characterful residents are memorialised by the photographer, who had a strong eye for framing his pieces, producing persistent and momentary works. One that springs to mind is that of a doctor visiting his patient. Here, the photographer stands at a distance that beckons us to take in the scene of the doctor’s visit; the light streaming into a small room through net curtains; the shining ornaments of a country home; happy wallpaper and a cosy blanket. In Mr Burn, the Coal Man, Saggers captures an intriguing moment in which a working man, covered in the material he works with day-in and day-out, draws his hand to his face, with eyes closed and lips parted. One can imagine how fleeting this moment was for the photographer, who perches beneath her subject, giving him a definite and beautiful magnitude, with a focus on his light-filled apron; his weather-worn hands and face. The metal shed in which he stands offers a solid, shining backdrop to a man surrounded by shadowy coal bags. (As you can probably tell, this piece is a favourite of mine, and I’m easily lost in it).

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Cattle in the byre- Byland Abbey- November 2013

Lucy Saggers, Cattle in the Byre – Byland Abbey, November 2013. Copyright the artist.

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‘I generally never take photographs of people without talking to them –
even 
if it is after the photograph is taken. But sometimes I find it too difficult
and I 
sacrifice a picture because I’m not able to approach the person.
I have to be in 
the right frame of mind, and it needs to feel okay to invade someone’s privacy.’

Lucy’s father studied photography at night school, teaching his daughter the basics of taking photographs, developing and printing in his darkroom. ‘I set up my own darkroom with his old enlarger and spent all my money on chemicals and papers – I was probably in my late teens or early twenties.’ It turned out that photography was very much in Lucy’s blood, as later in her twenties, her mother discovered that her estranged father had been living in South Africa, working as a photojournalist for many years.

There is surely an element of photojournalism to Lucy’s work, which possesses such foreboding qualities, with its monochromatic consciousness for texture – its generosity of spirit, grasping always for the light and for humility. She frames people in conversation, going about their days, taking from Ted Grant that when you capture people in black and white, you ‘photograph their souls’. In Coconut Slice, Lucy gives us a real sense of the feeling of being in this small group of village residents. There is a gentleness to this piece, and real humour. An elderly lady scrunches her face in enthusiasm for the treats in front of her, as her seated companions look onward into the distance, bathed in light. This piece encapsulates Lucy’s affinity for natural portraiture, and somehow, amidst an unrehearsed moment, she manages to capture four strong portraits in a single frame. These works get your attention, and it’s hard to pass them by without revelling in their detail – the railway sign and car wheel; the gentleman’s empty cup.

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Coconut slice- Ampleforth- July 2014

Lucy Saggers, Coconut Slice – Ampleforth, July 2014. Copyright the artist.

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Lucy studied psychology at Newcastle University, where she was interested in taking up photography, but was drawn to study animal behaviour first – her mother guiding her with the words ‘do science now, and you can do art later.’ The now-photographer worked in wildlife conservation and rural development for several years, until her third child was born. Six years later, with all her children at school, Lucy began to notice photographs wherever she went. ‘I saved some money and bought my first digital SLR, and went on to study photography online for a year, gaining a diploma from the Photography Institute in 2013.’

Finding remote study quite hard, it is no wonder Lucy was drawn out into the community to capture portraits of local people and the landscape. She always takes photographs when alone, immersing herself in the connections that rural life brings to the natural world, and ‘the immense beauty in the everyday moments that I feel a need to document.’  She is drawn to light, to composition and texture, and works in black and white because she feels that colour can distract from these core elements, and that she can get closer to the essence of both portraits and landscapes in monochrome.

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Herbert- Remembrance Day 2015

Lucy Saggers, Herbert – Remembrance Day, 2015. Copyright the artist.

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‘If I were in a city, I would happily photograph fragments of city life. It’s the moments of connection between people or people and their environment that I’m drawn to.
Cartier-Bresson would call them the ‘decisive moments’.
It doesn’t absolutely matter if they are in the city or the countryside.’

The artist is influenced by photographers including Edwin Smith, Fay Godwin and Jane Bown, the latter evident in her seeking that acknowledgement, that fleeting glance in works such as Herbert – Remembrance Day. This piece is framed to include the smiling ladies and churchmen, firmly encouraging our feeling party to Herbert’s company, as he meets our eye with a warm and knowing look, his poppy poised gently and purposely, just in shot.

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Early autumn morning looking over Ampleforth- October 2012

Lucy Saggers, Early Morning looking over Ampleforth, October 2012. Copyright the artist.

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You may have seen Lucy’s work exhibited if you live in Yorkshire. When I lived there, I came across it often. She shows work as part of North Yorkshire Open Studios and the Great North Art Show, and has exhibited at Rural Arts in Thirsk. Lucy also pushes her practice, recently applying for the Taylor Wessing prize and exhibiting at the Mall Galleries in London. Not long ago she held her first solo show at Helmsley Arts Centre, her favourite exhibition to date. The work resonated with many for its social commentary.

Lucy’s depictions of Ampleforth have formed a project that is newly titled Ampleforth Life. Capturing ‘the ordinary beauty of life in a North Yorkshire village’, Ampleforth Life will see Lucy developing the series, spurred by her fascination for the uniqueness of the village: ‘Ampleforth is historically unusual because it had no traditional manorial system of rule, and in 2016 it remains a diverse and thriving village with fascinating remnants of its past.’

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Potato field- Waterloo Farm, Sproxton, April 2015.jpg

Lucy Saggers, Potato Field – Waterloo Farm, Sproxton, April 2015. Copyright the artist.

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Lucy continues to follow her instinct, taking pictures that mean something to her. Join the artist online and watch the progress of her project at lucysaggers.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

See Lucy’s work within Kunsthuis’ current show, Zwart-Wit, until 20 March, and at Dalby Forest Visitor Centre until late May 2016.

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Ed’s note: Yorkshire Art Journal has been a joy to work on. I created it from nothing while I studied in York, seeking to engage with artists and exhibitions in the county, and it has led me on a path that I never envisaged. Thank you all for reading and engaging with this project, and I hope to encounter you again in future adventures.
~ Katherine April Caddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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