Our Country Lives was created over a period of several months in 2022 with young people using photography, collage, writing, and drawings of their daily lives in Teesdale. Over 50 young people from Teesdale have taken part from UTASS – Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services Youth Club, Cotherstone Primary School, Bowes Hutchinson Primary School and Teesdale School and Sixth Form.

These young people were supported by Joanne Coates, an award winning socially engaged artist using the medium of photography to engage with the landscape of Teesdale exploring what this area of outstanding natural beauty means to them. Our Country Lives exhibits their photographs reflecting contemporary rural issues.

Over the weeks participants learnt new skills “We tried out lots of different equipment and considered different types of photography” and the medium helped them to understand their environment from a different viewpoint “I enjoyed taking photos at home because it makes you think more about the land and what the subject means to you.”

Born, raised and working in the rural north of England, Joanne was educated at The Sir John Cass School of Fine art (Fda Fine Art) and The London College of Communication (Ba Hons Photography) and her work has been exhibited both in the UK and internationally. Joanne said –

“Photography is a tool that can be used to tell stories, to reflect on our times, to share our identity, our frustrations and worries about the future”. The rural idyll is often presented by an outsiders eye, it is rarely the complex truth of the countryside. Young people do not get to share their experiences or stories, what future they would like, or what their present looks like, what worries they have. It is rare now for rural young people to be able to afford to live in an area of natural beauty, many go on to have to leave. Joanne’s motivations come from a personal lived experience of the land, she reflects, “I wanted young people to learn new skills, to have fun, to know that anyone can have a say about their area, and to find out what they think about the future of the land. To share the story of the land through their own vision. The project aims to share different perspectives, give a platform to young people so their voices can be heard.”

The work was on display through an outdoor exhibition at Bowlees Visitor Centre from April – June 2022.


Selection of photos of the work below. Image content (c) participating young people. Install photos (c) Wendy McDonnell.

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