3 Questions for UK Photographer Peter Mitchell

Harper Brokaw-Falbo
Dec 30, 2015 9:31PM

Peter Mitchell has been quietly photographing the Northern city of Leeds for the past 40 years. His work has documented the transformation of the region from an agricultural and industrial community, to a modern metropolis. His most recent series with Wirtz Art, Is that it? takes on the not-so familiar image of the scarecrow, and its function and symbology within the rural landscape of Yorkshire county.  

Untitled (Note 87), 2015
Wirtz Art

Question 1: You’re known for pioneering color photography in the UK. Obviously there have been a great deal of advancements since you started working 40 years ago. How has your process changed, or has it really?

Peter Mitchell: I’ve always equated photography with painting and in the late 1960s in the U.K. there wasn’t much monochrome painting but all “gallery” photography was black and white. Leeds (where I live) might be dull but never devoid colour. 

Question 2: Your recent book and photographic series SOME THING means EVERYTHING to SOMEBODY, really explores the life of things and our personal relationships to them through the image of the scarecrow. Scarecrows are typically made up of discarded, everyday objects, but they are given a second life in the fields and then again as the subject of your work. How and why did you first become interested in them? 

PM: Scarecrows? Why do I like them? 

They are temporary

They have character

They are not neutral

They have a job to do

They are stuck between heaven and earth

They symbolize and remind us of things

I could go on and on

Question 3: There seems to be great deal of sentimentality in your work for the landscape and for the objects that you’re photographing. Yorkshire and Leeds, which has been the subject of your work for the past 40 years, are also your home. Do you see your own life paralleling your photographic work in some way?

PM: Sentiment is essential; we all have it including psychopaths. It’s (a) the quality of sentiment that matters and (b) how you use it that counts. 

Does art imitate life or is it the other way round? Is it true that people don’t know much about art but always know what they like? In art as in love instinct is enough says Anatole France from a long time ago. I sort of agree with that. There are no parallel universes from where I come from!

Harper Brokaw-Falbo