I first went to Mongolia in 2001 for the marriage of our eldest son. We stayed for over a month in the city, Ulaanbaatar and traveled into the countryside north and west. I took a couple of robust Pentax cameras and a lot of black & white film, documenting as much as I could.
On return to Yorkshire, I printed the work I had taken and approached the Oriental Museum in Durham with the results. The then curator, Kevin Mcloughlin, was very interested in the work and suggested supplementing it with a further field trip, which I made in 2003. Another exhibition was scheduled for 2005/06, I took with me a larger format camera and some colour film, though I prefer to work in black & white. The resulting exhibition was funded by the Arts Council of Great Britain, with exhibition costs met by the Oriental Museum.
In all my work in Mongolia, I was inspired by the universality and the similarity of countryside people in the way they played and worked, and in looking at the photographic reference work of the Marie Hartley archive, I was struck by similarities of the work I had been doing and the universality of people in two very different geographic locations.
Marie Hartley was born in 1905 in Morley near Leeds. She went to the Leeds College of Art and the Slade School London, where she specialised in wood engraving. Whilst living at Wetherby, Marie joined up with a woman named Ella Pontefract to illustrate and write books on the Dales and Yorkshire. In 1964, after the death of Ella, Marie joined Joan Ingilby to “record in book form all the old ways of life in the dales on the farm and in the home”.
I had been aware of Marie Hartleys’ archive at Leeds University and the comparisons between what she used as reference for her wood engravings and my own work in Mongolia. I made the suggestion to Fiona Rosher at the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes, for an exhibition highlighting the similarities between country life in the Yorkshire Dales and Mongolia. She thought it would make for an interesting contrasting exhibition.
I contacted Lone Helliwell and Andrea Hunter, whose art work is in felt, and Jane Carlisle, who works in silk. These fabrics / materials are a major part of the life of Mongolian herders. Felt is used in the making of the tents, (Gers), and silk in the religious life of Bhuddists in Mongolia. The work by the contributing artists in the exhibition, reflects the sense of space and the colours that exist in both countries.
I have tried to match my photographs with the Marie Hartley photographs in order to show comparisons between the two countries. This is especially important to me, as the way of life in Mongolia is changing at an alarming rate. This is because of vast deposits of minerals, copper, gold and coal, being mined in the Gobi desert and the mountains of the northwest.
A very hard series of seasons, have resulted in countryside nomadic herders moving into the Ger districts on the outskirts of the city of Ulaanbaatar, with all kinds of problems, mainly sanitation, unemployment and financial.
I have tried to show the change in a way of life that still has elements of the Mongolian traditions and comparing it with the way Dales life has changed since the 1950′s & 60′s of Marie Hartley’s time.
The Dales Countryside Museum will be hosting the exhibition, Mongolian Links, until 26th March 2012.