Women in farming photo exhibition, Hay-on-Wye
A photographic exhibition of local characters by Billie Charity
My passion is finding and talking with real people, in real situations, getting to know them, and capturing their responses with my camera. I like to find the beauty on our doorsteps, in everyday settings.
I was brought up in this area, but I have had little direct experience of farm life, driving past tiny turnings off country lanes without a second thought about all the activity at the end of the tracks.
In recent years however, if I’ve had a spare morning, something has drawn me to the livestock markets in Hay or Hereford. I’ve had great conversations as well as uncovering unique photo opportunities. But it struck me that most of my farming photos have shown men, and I wanted to showcase all the hard-working women too.
I seem to have struck a chord in choosing the theme of women in farming, because it has been very easy to find subjects to photograph. Farming and non-farming friends and acquaintances have been enthusiastic about recommending subjects. And each person I visited would suggest more people for me to go and photograph.
When I phoned people up to ask them to take part in the project, quite a few were very reluctant, some even refused outright and needed a lot of persuasion. But after the photoshoots, several of the women said that it was lovely to be recognised for the work that they do and most, if not all, enjoyed the experience of being photographed (or so they told me!). As one farmer’s wife put it: ‘It’s lovely that you’re photographing the women behind the scenes, because they are the ones that keep the cogs moving!’.
Women farmers are amazing people. They are hands-on with the hard physical work like lambing, shearing and milking. A lot of them also take care of the business side of things and all the office work as well.
Take Betty, for example. Up one tiny track, at the top of Little Mountain in Westbrook, I met this energetic 93-year-old woman who immediately jumped onto her quad bike and posed for a photo. She told me that she cooks a delicious hearty lunch every day in the Aga and it’s always ready by 9am. And if there’s an unwell lamb, it might be placed in the plate oven in the bottom of the Aga until the warmth revives it. An entire book could be written about Betty, if not several.
At the other end of the age spectrum, at Hereford livestock market, I overheard an 18-year-old girl making a joyous phone call to her dad to say that her pigs had fetched the highest price at auction. After persuading her to pose next to one of her pigs, Courtney told me that she learned all the practical side of farming from her granddad. When he passed away she had to teach herself all the paperwork, including movement records and treatment records, as well as all the rest of the admin that comes with buying and selling livestock. She somehow does all that while holding down a full-time job in a residential home.
In fact a lot of these women are working flat out on the farms, and they also have one or sometimes even two jobs on top. Lots of them are busy mums as well.
The project has shown me the real variety of women who work in farming, from those that have been born into farming and have helped out on the farms all their lives and now run the business, to the relative newcomers who have taken up and embraced farming later in life. And it has shown me just how hard these people work.
I’d like to thank everyone who took part and allowed me onto their farms to photograph them. It has been a truly positive and happy experience.