The Lie of the Land, an exhibition by photographer Joanne Coates, has just opened in Belfast.
Originally commissioned as part of Jerwood / Photoworks award 4 and previously on show at The Jerwood Space in London, The Lie of the Land explores the social history of the land, narrating a story of gender and class that has long been forgotten, or never told.
Over a period of 12 months Joanne Coates collaborated with twelve women who identify as working class / low income living in rural areas in the North East of England. Through conversations, walks, photography and written reflections, their shared interactions reveal personal images free of the romanticism so often associated with contemporary rural England. Bringing together photography, sound, sculpture and writing, The Lie of the Land addresses the erasure of contemporary working-class histories and culture in the British countryside.
Through this commission Coates navigates her own personal stories whilst working with communities that she is a part of in the rural North East of England – seeing the work as an exploration of unresolved questions, and a process of connections.
“It’s that personal history and feeling that that story, of working classes and rurality, hasn’t been told. Now I live in the countryside again and it’s seen as somewhere to move to, to be creative, but if you’re working class and from here, you can’t afford that lifestyle. I found that duality interesting, the complexities of class in the countryside. I’m in the Northern Dales – rolling hills, little stone cottages – but you’re more likely to live in a pebbledash house or on a council estate. I was interested in the way the land looks and the way we perceive the countryside as beautiful, a place for the middle class. David Cameron did this when he pushed the pastoral vision of the countryside, but that’s not the reality. Also, the power structures of the land. Some places I photographed are owned by the wealthiest people in the UK, and at one point it would have been a feudal system. Two of the Dales I’ve worked across still have that, with tenant farmers and villages owned entirely by one person, but people don’t think that exists anymore. This erasure of the working class rural experience doesn’t make sense to me – so many of the jobs are labouring work.”