Review - An Evening with Matilda Temperley, 26 Oct 2020

A review by Jane Tearle - “From Fashion to Circus and Floods” & “Somerset: A View from the Hill”, An Evening with Matilda Temperley, 26 October 2020
It is said that ‘the world is your oyster’. Matilda Temperley’s travels and extensive range of photographic subjects is testament to that. However, with travel currently restricted, Matilda has returned to her Somerset roots where you will find her producing Cider Brandy at her family’s cider farm.

To follow Matilda’s journey to becoming a photographer is a fascinating one. We joined her on that journey through the medium of her colour and black & white photographs, with Matilda relating the stories behind them.

Fashion, where flying to foreign shores to look for the sun had become the norm, begged the question as to why this could not be done in the UK. The sun and natural light were the main reasons that, together with stunning scenery, could show off the models and their outfits to their best.

In 2006, Matilda was working as a malaria project scientist based in Ethiopia and there became involved with the tribes of the Omo valley. She showed her images of the Mursi, Suri and Hamar, with their lip-plates and village traditions like donga stick fighting. Later producing a book, ‘Omo: The Challenge in the Valley’.

Matilda then presented her experience in the Circus where, with the aim of becoming a trapeze artist, she actually learned and honed her skills as a photographer. Being ’embedded’ with the circus performers for a number of years she was able to take her photography in a new direction. She showed us images of a variety of performers: bendy contortionists, burlesque dancers, a lady sumo wrestler and Thomas the lion-tamer, the 8th generation of lion-tamers in his family.

Then the 2014 Somerset floods happened. Taking her mother’s advice to return from a project in Thailand set Matilda on another path. Somerset is where she grew up, where she knew lots of the inhabitants and their stories and was able to record with openness and local knowledge. She presented images of houses that remained flooded for two months, the views over the levels from Burrow Hill, with water as far as the eye could see. She also showed what happened to the local people: the implications for travel and everyday life, including children on their way to school in a boat. Moorland Church with several feet of water inside provided a refuge for a short while for Matilda to sit and assimilate all that had happened.

And so to her more recent book and exhibition ‘A View from the Hill’, which was developed following a request by the Somerset Rural Life Museum. ‘Photographing what you know best’ is one of the best ways of working says Matilda. It enabled her to follow her own inclinations developing a more empathetic and natural approach, ditching the formal fashion portraits she had started with. Knocking on doors and searching out the unusual in her neighbourhood, all within view of the Hill. She presented images of many local and traditional activities that she found: withy growers, cheese-makers, bee-keepers, elvering in the canals, cutting reeds from a coracle. Matilda’s open approach to her subjects got them talking and sharing their stories.

Going to see the exhibition and spend a day on a workshop with Matilda last year, left me with a lasting impression of her excellent black and white work. Matilda this was a wonderfully varied and thought provoking evening of photographs. Everyone will have gained inspiration from your enthusiasm and range of subjects! Thank you.

~ Jane Tearle