The Lie of the Land

The Lie of the Land explores the social history of the land, narrating a story of gender and class that has long been forgotten, or never told. Over the past 12 months Joanne Coates has collaborated with twelve women who identify as working class / low income living in rural areas in the North East of England. Through conversations, walks, photography and written reflections, their shared interactions reveal personal images free of the romanticism so often associated with contemporary rural England. Bringing together photography, sound, sculpture and writing, The Lie of the Land addresses the erasure of contemporary working-class histories and culture in the British countryside.

Through this commission Coates navigates her own personal stories whilst working with communities that she is a part of in the rural North East of England – seeing the work as an exploration of unresolved questions, and a process of connections. “It’s that personal history and feeling that that story, of working classes and rurality, hasn’t been told. Now I live in the countryside again and it’s seen as somewhere to move to, to be creative, but if you’re working class and from here, you can’t afford that lifestyle. I found that duality interesting, the complexities of class in the countryside. I’m in the Northern Dales – rolling hills, little stone cottages – but you’re more likely to live in a pebbledash house or on a council estate. I was interested in the way the land looks and the way we perceive the countryside as beautiful, a place for the middle class. David Cameron did this when he pushed the pastoral vision of the countryside, but that’s not the reality. Also, the power structures of the land. Some places I photographed are owned by the wealthiest people in the UK, and at one point it would have been a feudal system. Two of the Dales I’ve worked across still have that, with tenant farmers and villages owned entirely by one person, but people don’t think that exists anymore. This erasure of the working class rural experience doesn’t make sense to me – so many of the jobs are labouring work.”

This work was commissioned as part of Jerwood Photoworks Award and is currently on show at The Jerwood Space in London until December 10th. More information can be found here.

Joanne Coates

Joanne Coates is a working-class photographer. Born and based in North Yorkshire, she works across the North of England. Coates explores rurality, social histories of class, and inequalities relating to low income through photography, installations, and audio. She was first educated in working-class communities, and then at London College of Communication (Hons). Her practice revolves around process, participation, and working with communities. She is interested in questioning stories around power, identity, wealth, and poverty.

Coates’ work has been exhibited in the UK and internationally including at The Royal Albert Hall, Reveal-T Photography Festival, Cork Photo Festival and Somerset House. In 2012, she was awarded a Metro Imaging Portfolio Prize, a Magnum Portfolio Review and The Ideastap innovators award. In 2016, she was awarded the Magenta Flash Forward Top 30 emerging talent and in 2017, she was one of the artists working in Hull for the UK City of Culture. She is joint recipient of the Jerwood / Photoworks award 4. In 2020 Coates was commissioned for an artist residency at The Maltings and Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) and Institute for Creative Arts Practice, where she developed Daughters of the Soil, exploring the role of women in agriculture in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. It was exhibited at The Maltings in 2022 before touring to Vane Gallery in Gateshead. The small publication to accompany the work is now sold out. In 2022 she was announced as North Sea Artist in residence.

Coates work has been commissioned by The Guardian, The BBC, The Telegraph, Bloomberg, Insider and more. She was recently lead artist for a creative people and places project as part of Borderlands in Middlesbrough.