John Beatty: Away with the Fairies
- Thursday 7 April 2011
John Beatty, like so many artists, is away with the fairies. Rather distractingly, the terms for his book Wild Vision were negotiated at a fell race checkpoint, somewhere on the flank of Win Hill. While I discussed percentages and schedules, UK and European rights, John picked out the call of a snipe somewhere out of sight in a clump of sedge. All this accompanied by first the pack of athletes, then a trickle of stragglers enjoying the summer evening.
This is typical of John; his best work comes from and with a close proximity to the world's natural rhythms and places. Indeed fine details of the contract were interrupted by three feeding redpolls lured in by a feeder crammed with niger seeds. But, in truth, John isn't distracted, he's observing and absorbing and, for those of you who have seen his show or read his book, John has a unique skill; he can relate what he sees with insight and passion.
Of course his photography is legendary; John is certainly one of the most renowned UK photographers in his field, something well recognised by the likes of the National Trust, Rohan, the John Muir Trust and a host of other organisations. But, unlike a lot of brilliant photographers, John brings something unique to the medium. Despite knowing him for many years, and even after reading his book, it is difficult to pin it down. Is John simply inspired by his travels around the world – to Africa, the Himalaya, the Arctic, Galapagos and beyond – or is it something more something spiritual, something that only he is uniquely able to translate into words and pictures? If you don't 'get' John, a few minutes in the company of his work will soon convert you. He can take a scene and breathe narrative into it; a simple shot of a coyote crossing a snowfield in the heart of Yellowstone National Park tells us why this beast figures so strongly in Native American legend.
John is not a technical guy when it comes to photography, his photography is merely a medium in which he can express the natural world around him: his camera a tool. He can find wildness and bring it to our eyes, to folk like me who so often find themselves starved of such during day-to-day life.
Working with John on his book is one of the most important projects I have been involved in. His book at its simplest helps me choose my own adventure when 5 p.m. arrives. Between whether to run around the suburban streets for an hour after work, or head up the wooded valley and out across the moors instead. A chance to be away with the fairies.