The hills of Lakeland, and the people on them

high viz on Great Gable walker on Helm Cragrock climber High Cragwoman on Red Pike, Buttermere

A new exhibition of photographs is set to show how fashion today is influenced by the outdoors culture.

What we wear reflects our personalities, the situations we are in and the activities we are taking part in, says photographer Henry Iddon. And to prove the point, he took to the hills of the English Lake District to create a remarkable portrait of fashion beyond the high street.

Hill People will open in Grasmere at the Heaton Cooper Studio as the preview event for the prestigious Kendal Mountain Festival, which draws huge crowds of adventurers and film-makers from around the world.

It’s the culmination of a project which took Iddon out onto the hills to look, unusually, at the people out there, rather than the landscape. The intention was to study what the clothes they wear may say about them as individuals, while investigating those who take part in ‘outdoor’ sports, and extend their individual experiences and relationships with a mountain environment.

“Those people involved in outdoor sports will recognise equipment, clothing types and the brands worn by others in the outdoors and come to conclusions about the people wearing particular items,” says Iddon.

“The existence of outdoor culture allows its members to recognise one another and to convey messages. A person may have a walking stick emblazoned with badges of previously visited areas stating I am well travelled. They may use an old rucksack to state I have been in the game for years. They may wear an expensive jacket designed for Himalayan mountaineering: ‘I have achieved extraordinary things’, ‘I aspire to achieve’ or, more likely, ‘I am buying into the idea of extreme achievement’.”

The result is a fascinating new perspective on outdoor activity – and a collection of stunning and unusual images.

The Hill People represent a substantial species. The latest Active People Survey (APS) results from Sport England suggests that around 211,000 people go climbing or hill walking at least once a month and 84,000 take part at least once a week. Twice as many people go walking on holiday compared to those visiting an amusement park, historic house or museum.  The total £20bn outdoor economy represents 1.65% of the UK’s GDP.

Iddon highlights how modern outdoor clothing has now been absorbed into everyday fashion.  Fabrics such as Gore-tex, once used only for outdoor sports wear, can now be seen in articles of clothing worn on the high street, and fleece garments, first popular in the mid 1980s, are now to be found in most fashion retailers.

“Adventure sports, including mountaineering and climbing, are now a lifestyle used by brands to market products to all parts of society,” says Iddon.

“This is a society that is increasingly aware of its environmental responsibilities, and a desire to engage with upland, remote and wild places is a way of escaping the pressures of urban living. Nature sports are not the only way to develop our understanding of the natural world but they give us a way of relating to it through play and seeing ourselves in partnership with features of it.”

Iddon adds that outdoor sports are not the only way to develop our understanding of the natural world, “but they give us a way of relating to it through play and by seeing ourselves in partnership with it. This exhibition looks to consider: Who are hill people?”

His definition refers to “those people who are to be found in an upland environment throughout the year and in a range of climatic conditions. They partake in a variety of outdoor hill or mountain-based pastimes including fell walking, fell running, rock climbing or even paragliding.

“These sports or pastimes could be described as alternative sports: they are not mainstream activities such as association football, rugby football, cricket etc. Underneath an umbrella term such as alternative sports fall subsections, including ʻextreme sportsʼ and ʻnature sportsʼ. Both these subsections function in such a way as to allow participants to develop relationships between themselves and the natural world.”

Director of the Heaton Cooper Studio, Becky Heaton Cooper said: This is a fascinating exhibition which fits naturally into our permanent collection of landscape art. We are delighted to be associated with the Kendal Mountain Festival which last year launched our very successful Lines of Ascent exhibition. Henry Iddon is one of the most iconic photographers of our time and we are thrilled to be hosting Hill People.”

Henry Iddon has been a full time professional photographer for nearly 20 years and has been participating in outdoor sports since being a young child: he started skiing at the age of five. He has represented Great Britain at Speed Skiing, has been involved with mountaineering exploits in Europe, North America and Asia, and cycled across a range of disciplines at an elite level.

His action sports, documentary, and portrait photography has been commissioned  by a variety of commercial, non-profit and news organisations as well as UK Central Government departments. Clients include W.H Gore, Lowe Alpine, Patagonia, Snokart, Science in Sport, PGL, Acorn Adventure, Cycling Plus, Outdoor Fitness, 220 Triathlon, UK Department of Education, BBC World News, and BBC Sport.

Iddon’s work concerns finding new ways of using photography to investigate the upland and wilderness environment. He received an individual Arts Council England Grant award in 2006 and has been nominated for the National Media Museum Bursary Award (UK), shortlisted for the And/or Book Awards and long listed for the 2014 Aesthetica Art Prize. Images from Spots of Time, Hill People and A Place to Go have been exhibited in galleries in the UK, Italy, Nepal and Brazil.

Iddon is currently Artist in Residence at the Forton Lancaster South Services on the M6 motorway which celebrates its 50th birthday and is well known for its iconic Pennine Tower. Spending his time speaking to staff and travellers to find out about their journeys and destinations, he will create a series of photographic portraits of both the people and the location.

Hill People opens at the Heaton Cooper Studio on Thursday November 19.

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