PRINT February 2002


SAUL FLETCHER SHOT THE AUSTERE LANDSCAPES on the following pages at the end of a frustrating three weeks last February. “I'd been thinking about these pictures for three or four years,'' he says in his soft North Country burr. ”I used to work in those fields picking potatoes. I knew there were pictures to be done there, but it never felt right.“ Determined to capture a place that had left a strong imprint on him, Fletcher, thirty-four, left London, where he lives with his wife and children, and returned to his family home in Lincolnshire, in northeastern England. His parents still live in the Barton-upon-Humber house Fletcher grew up in, and he used that as his base for daily forays into the countryside, stalking the same muddy fields where he'd worked late every fall from age twelve to sixteen. He figured midwinter's chill barrenness would stand in for November: ”Usually you can guarantee that at that time of year you'll have a flat, gray sky, which is what I was looking for.“ But the weather was often better or worse than he'd hoped, and each outing was further complicated by the restrictions that had been set up to stern the spread of foot-and-mouth disease in England's livestock. ”I had to sort of sneak about,'' says Fletcher, who clearly relished the challenge. “It's all farming in that area, and we weren't even allowed on some roads. But I ended up taking no notice of it and doing pretty much what I wanted.” Just as challenging was the problem of keeping his Polaroid operative in the freezing weather; he carried the camera and film in a metal box cushioned between a pair of hot-water bottles. But the resulting photos were never what he'd imagined (“Nature's horrible when you've got no control”), and he was twice forced to return to London for more film before, on the last possible day, he made the pictures he'd come for. “I wanted them to be quite stark and just solid ground,” he says. “The feeling of being really rooted there,” put, like the small, haunting portraits and still lifes he's been making over the past few years in his deliberately unrenovated North London studio, Fletcher's landscapes don't seem fixed in any particular time. With the exception of one image that includes two distant telephone poles, these pictures of wet, rutted earth and bare trees might have been made at the dawn of photography; they have the humble beauty of a Fox Talbot. Fletcher says he thinks of them as portraits of “me dad,” who accompanied him to the fields most days: “no-nonsense, straightforward, nothing fancy there. Honest, true, and that's it.” But he also sees himself in these pictures, and is grateful for the grounding they provide.“ At the very bottom of me—at the very, very core—that's what I am,” he says. “Or I'd like to think that's what I am: a hardworking field, something to be proud of.”

Vince Aletti