Bring back some good or bad memories


January 14, 2024

Legs Over High Tor, Matlock, 1975

The British countryside has a strong aesthetic—both wild and quaint in parts, green, rugged and, very often, wet. Paul Hill’s moody Legs Over High Tor speaks of childhood adventure and danger—depicting a pair of white-socked legs dangling causally over the side of a jagged rock face.

Samantha Lomas recalled a day out with her photographer father, in 1975:
“My father took this shot when I was nine. It was just before he set up the Photographers’ Place, the UK’s first residential photography workshop, which featured big names such as Fay Godwin and Martin Parr. Photographers were always hanging around our house, but I considered them a bit of a nuisance.

Dad and I used to go walking a lot, and on this occasion we were on High Tor, a rocky outcrop that overlooks Matlock Bath and the river Derwent a few miles from our home in Derbyshire. Dad said, “Right, can you just sit at the top of that rock?”

We were a couple of hundred feet up, but I’m not scared of heights and remember being more worried about him, because he found a far more precarious spot to take the photograph, on a ledge with one foot on an outgrowing tree.

The perspective makes the situation look much more extreme than it was, plus Dad made sure I was completely safe by getting me to lie back, which of course you can’t see. I recall him saying he chose this vantage point to make it look as if my legs were touching the river. You wouldn’t guess I was wearing massive 70s flares, rolled up so they were out of the frame. Perhaps he was looking for a sense of vulnerability. I was quite a tomboy, but I did adore those awful shoes and wore them everywhere.

Dad and I never really discussed his photographs, so I don’t know if this image was an idea he’d had in mind before we went up to High Tor. I don’t think so, though, because it felt spontaneous.

Dad has never carried lots of lenses or equipment; for him, it’s all about the image – he took family photos with a Polaroid back then; nowadays he uses his phone.

I was in quite a few of his well-known photographs: as well as this shot, which is called Legs Over High Tor, there’s one of me in a swimming pool, and another where I’m poking my face through one of those painted character cutout boards you find at the seaside.

I remember sometimes feeling impatient as Dad waited for the light or other background details to change. Looking back, I doubt I was ever kept waiting more than a minute or two, but that’s the child’s perspective. I feel honoured to be in the photos now – soon after this was taken, Dad started concentrating more exclusively on landscape, leaving people out of his images altogether.

I used to love watching him process images in his darkroom, but I didn’t see this one until it started appearing in books and exhibitions. I was once at a show where I overheard someone say they thought allowing a child to be in that position was child abuse. I was too shy to point out that I was the subject and that, actually, I’d been fine with it.

For me, this picture is about growing up in the 70s, and play, and the dangerous situations I’d sometimes get into with my friends – the freedom many kids don’t get to experience today. I’ve never been to the top of High Tor with my own children, but my daughter’s pretty brave. Perhaps one day I’ll recreate the moment with her.”


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