Ted Leeming and Morag Paterson: Changing landscapes

© Ted Leeming

This weekend, Ted Leeming and Morag Paterson will discuss their latest photographic projects in two online talks. We spoke to them to find out more… 

Photographers Ted Leeming and Morag Paterson specialise in creatively recording the environment, with a focus on humanity’s relationship with the landscape, and habitat biodiversity. 

Twelve years ago, they began their Zero Footprint project, which saw them recording the landscape surrounding their smallholding in Dumfries and Galloway from the same fixed point over a five-year period. 

Splitting their time between Scotland and their home in Liguria, Italy, they continue to explore themes of transformation and metamorphosis in nature. 

© Morag Paterson

Outdoor Photography: Can you tell us a bit about the ideas behind your recent projects?
Ted Leeming: The projects came about because of the pandemic; I guess we were working very close to home. When we were in Italy, we started doing No Mow May, which led me down a path of looking at the biodiversity in our garden and beyond. We live in the hills and there is a forest and hay meadows behind, so the project expanded into a much more detailed analysis of the landscape; it is an exploration of the biodiversity of the hill on which we live. 

On the back of that, when we returned to Scotland we were asked by a local gallery to do an exhibition that followed on from our Zero Footprint project from 12 years earlier. 

Instead of exploring purely the landscape, I started looking at the biodiversity on both the site and the areas of adjacent land to compare how different landscapes impact biodiversity. For example, an improved pasture had 11 different species on it, whereas the unimproved pasture had about 50 species. The coniferous plantation that was on the next bit of land had about 15 species, and the rewilding project that we were doing had over one hundred species on it. The project compared more intensive land use types with more natural land use types and rewilding to compare the biodiversity 

© Ted Leeming

OP: One of your projects involved exploring the world through the eyes of an ant. Was this a challenging angle to shoot from?
TL: It was. I don’t usually shoot close-ups, so that was completely new. Also, there are plenty of botanical photographers that have been shooting this sort of work for years and do it phenomenally well. And I didn’t want to just be beautifully recording different plant species. I basically decided I was going to see through the eyes of an ant, by crawling through their world. Looking up, looking down, looking round at little fragments of the wider landscape. The underlying message is to try and encourage people to slow down, think about place, location, where they are and explore it in a different way. 

© Morag Paterson

© Morag Paterson

OP: Morag, can you tell us a bit about your explorations with alternative natural photographic techniques and the chromatograms you have been making?
Morag Paterson: I started exploring this technique a year or so ago; it’s a process that involves making laboratory paper light-sensitive by adding silver nitrate. I then expose mixtures I’ve made from soil or botanical elements from trees, herbs and plants I’ve collected. And for this talk I’ve made some new work where I’m using animal dug and cobwebs and old hornets’ nest so I can bring in fuller spectrum of biodiversity. This gives me scope to talk about the the insect life a little bit and the fauna that’s around, whether that’s wild animals or stock animals that are kept for food production. 

It’s certainly a project in progress as opposed to something I feel like I’ve finished. But it’s nice to punctuate stages of it with exhibitions and talks. We’ve had three exhibitions with our work this year, one in Scotland, one in Italy and one in London. Thinking about what I would like to speak about in the talk with respect to the landscapes in both countries has actually led me to make new work, to help bring out the points that I hadn’t already covered. 

OP: Zero Footprint is much more than a photography project, it’s a way of life for you?
TL & MP: Yes. After our original Zero Footprint project, we effectively gave ourselves three years to rework our photographic practice towards zero carbon. We gave up flying, gave up running workshops to Iceland and all over Europe. And we basically allowed ourselves three years to find new sources of income that would replace the workshops. 

We’re both looking at how we can reduce the carbon footprint with respect to production, what papers we use, not buying a new camera every year, not buying lots of new equipment, but using the kit that we have. So, there are lots of different elements to it, but obviously the main one was getting rid of air travel. We now have the electric car as well, and our houses run on renewable energy. 

© Ted Leeming and Morag Paterson   

OP: You have spent 12 years rewilding your smallholding in Dumfries….
TL: So, I’ll be showing two slides at the end of my talk. The first is of the house 12 years ago, a Google Street View that shows just a bare hillside with a few stakes in the ground that we’ve planted little saplings in. In the second slide, also a Google Street View, taken this year, you can’t see the house anymore; there’s just a closed canopy treescape, and myriad different species. There are shrubs, ground cover, mosses and lichens. So, it’s across the biodiversity spectrum. 

Morag’s talk, Writing with Colour – A Tale of Two Countries is on Friday 16 September, 7-9pm. Sucking Nectar from Summer Clover by Ted Leeming is on Sunday 18 September, 7-9pm, as part of the Stirling Photography Festival.