Photographing the Peak District with Chris Gilbert
PUBLISHED: 18:35 15 January 2018 | UPDATED: 18:35 15 January 2018
Roly Smith meets the Cressbrook man who is co-author of a beautiful new photographic book on the Peak District
It was pure coincidence, but when photographer Chris Gilbert came to live in Derbyshire a dozen years ago, he came to live in the same cottage in Cressbrook which had been the home of one of his heroes, the former Peak District National Park photographer Ray Manley.
‘It wasn’t planned at all; it just happened,’ said Chris who now also works with the National Park authority, running the Peak Photography Gallery at the Bakewell Visitor Centre in the Old Market Hall.
‘I had always been an admirer of Ray’s work, particularly his book The Peak: A Park for All Seasons, which he did with Brian Redhead in 1989, and of his predecessor Mike Williams,’ said 54-year-old Chris. The Peak, which I instigated and for which I wrote the chapter introductions and captions, has long been regarded as the definitive book on landscape colour photography in the Peak District.
But Chris’s new book, Photographing the Peak District, challenges that claim, with a brilliant collection of over 750 outstanding colour images of around 150 locations in and around the Peak District. And happily, my former colleague Ray Manley, who now lives on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire, wrote the foreword to the new book. Ray writes: ‘For me, a passion for the Peak District was just as important as a passion for photography, and it is obvious from the excellent and inspiring photos in this book that Mick and Chris have both in abundance.’
Photographing the Peak District, which would make a superb present for anyone with an interest in photography and the Peak District landscape, is a collaboration between Chris and publisher and fellow photographer Mick Ryan. Mick, originator of the Rockfax climbing guides, lived with his old school friend Greg Rimmer in Bradwell for five years while working on the book, and now lives near Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley of West Yorkshire. Before coming to the Peak District, Mick spent most of the 1990s writing and publishing climbing guides in California.
Newcastle-born Chris, who met his teacher wife Jane while on a youth hostelling holiday at Rowland Cote, Edale, 28 years ago, bought his first camera for £25 with his first pay packet in 1981. As Chris explains in the book: ‘In the early part of our relationship, Jane was very much my guide, first taking me on a day-long walk through Dovedale in the snow. Her patience over the last couple of years, while I have revisited many of the places that we have explored together in our time in the Peak District, has been immense.’
Before taking up photography seriously, as a keen watercolourist, Chris had always imagined that painting – particularly the works of JWM Turner, W Heaton-Cooper in the Lake District, and the American artist Edward Hopper – was the medium that could best represent the nuances of the landscape.
He persisted with both painting and photography until 2002, when the quality of digital photography began to compare favourably with film. He eventually became a full-time photographer in 2006, starting up his successful Ravenseye Gallery and landscape photography courses (www.ravenseyegallery.co.uk).
Chris, who has a deep, almost psychological approach to photographic composition, comes up with some unusual viewpoints and interesting stories to accompany his magnificent pictures. One I particularly enjoyed was his explanation of the name of one of the Peak’s most photographed beauty spots – Water-cum-Jolly Dale. The charming, crag-rimmed dale lies in the valley of the Wye almost directly beneath Chris’s home at Cressbrook. Chris’s theory is that it gets its name from the ‘jolly boats’ in which mill partner William Mallison and his family, who lived at nearby Cressbrook Hall in the 1920s, would entertain their guests by boating on the mill pool. ‘Jolle’ is the German and Swedish word for a small boat or dingy.
Apart from his acknowledged debt to Ray Manley, Chris is also generous in his tributes to other Peak District photographers, many of whom have regularly graced the pages of this magazine. They include Mike Williams, Karen Frenkel and the late Jerry Rawson from Buxton.
Quoting Isaac Newton, the engagingly-modest Chris says: ‘I often feel that I am standing on the shoulders of giants.’