A Motcombe-based photographer has asked ThisIsAlfred readers for help in identifying the woman who features in a highly acclaimed photograph.
19-year-old Jennifer Forward-Hayter took her picture at Old Wardour Castle at Easter. In May, a panel of photography experts picked the image for inclusion in the British Journal of Photography’s ‘Portrait of Britain 2018’ book. Only 200 photographs were chosen from 13,000 submissions.
“I was climbing on top of the big bridge at Old Wardour Castle and I spied this amazing woman emerging from the trees, all orangey and green,” said Jennifer. “She was dressed in tartan and a big Barbour style jacket and cape. She looked amazing as she picked moss off stones. She told me that she came up to the castle every day, rain or shine, heat wave or snowfall. She just loved nature and the colours of the trees.”
Jennifer has not been able to track down the woman. “I’ve spoken to so many people who have been living in the area for 80 or 90 years and I cannot find her. It makes it even more mystical,” Jennifer said.
She would like to tell her that she will be featured in the book and her image could also appear on digital advertising display screens nationally. “It’s this sort of huge campaign where they select several winners and there’s a cross-section of many portraits of Britain. You have Harrods chefs to the refugees who have just come over and who are starting to make a new life here,” said Jenifer.
Since the judges chose Jennifer’s image, she feels that there is an increased interest in her work. “I’m still young – I’m 19 and I haven’t finished my university course yet – but I suddenly have this clout,” she said.
Jennifer only decided to visit Old Wardour Castle following an odd conversation at a party in London, where she studies. “We got onto the topic of castles and somebody asked me which was my favourite. It was a weird party conversation! I responded that it would be my local one. The man was so shocked that I had a local castle, that I thought I had to include it.”
Jennifer took the picture for her initial project, ‘England’s Dreaming’. The student, who studied photography during her time as a Shaftesbury School sixth former, put together a photo series documenting the hardship of living in the countryside, especially within the farming community of Dorset and Wiltshire.
“A lot of people don’t understand that farming still exists,” Jennifer said. “They dismiss the countryside as something that is picturesque and pretty, somewhere very nice to go on holiday. They don’t really think about the people that live there, work there or have their livelihoods there.”
Jennifer wanted to use her camera skills to capture images that could tell the story of rural England. “I felt it was my duty to give them the respect that they deserve and to highlight how important they are and how hard they work. I came down during the Easter period, just after the snow. It was wet, cold and very miserable. Farmers were sat inside watching the fields flood and lambs were dying because it was too cold. Despite all of those issues and problems, they were still waking up at 6 o’clock every morning, looking after their animals and their fields, going out in horrendous conditions and then going back at midnight so they could do it all again, for the rest of their lives. It’s remarkable,” she said.
Jennifer found that some people weren’t comfortable about being photographed. “At first it was hard going up to people because they thought I was some kind of animal rights activist and I was going to take the photos, go back to London and ‘name and shame’ them as horrible people. It took a while to get people to come around. I went hunting. I’ve never done that before. I had to show that as well. I had to explain that I wasn’t going to do anything bad to them. I just wanted to show peoples’ lives, because I think that it is important. Some farmers said things like ‘my wife is much prettier. I am just in a boiler suit and covered in cow muck.’ I explained that was what we needed to see.”
Jennifer says that she hasn’t taken many photos around her home village of Motcombe but Shaftesbury features prominently throughout her project. “I have that lovely view that you get when you go behind the hospital car park. You are so high up and you see the whole of Dorset. I have Shaftesbury market as well. There are some bits that are very pretty but you can’t have one without the other. Gold Hill doesn’t happen by accident in the 21st-century. It’s been kept like that, to be a lovely place. You can stand at any point and take a photo and it looks nice. Shaftesbury is quite a good example of a town that is trying to preserve its touristic roots and view.”
There’s a copy of Jennifer’s project work at Gold Hill Museum. The ‘Portrait of Britain’ book, containing her shortlisted picture, goes on sale in September. And Jennifer will hear whether she is one of 100 ‘Portrait Of Britain’ photography winners on 30thAugust. But she says that getting a local person represented and featuring rural life is an achievement in itself.
“I was very strong-willed about trying to get rural communities represented. It is nice that they are going to be on the same platform as these other groups and categories. This lovely old lady from Old Wardour Castle is going to represent Britain across the international stage.”
If you know the identity of the woman, you can contact Jennifer through ThisIsAlfred.com.
After Jennifer featured her quest to identify the woman in her picture on ThisIsAlfred.com, Jennifer has received an email from a member of the lady’s family. The woman is not a social media user.
We’re not going to reveal the lady’s name, because Jennifer has been told that the woman doesn’t want that sort of publicity. Jennifer says that it is ok for her to use the woman’s image in the contest and that she provided her photographic subject with copies of the highly acclaimed picture.