Behind the Lens with Peter Greenhalf

18 June 2019 | Posted in Project
Behind the Lens with Peter Greenhalf
Rye Harbour by Peter Greenhalf

Tell us about yourself.

I moved to the Rye area 43 years ago and initially lived on the reserve with the warden during art college summer holidays. I helped out with shepherding and hay-making on the farm on the reserve back then, and volunteered for conservation work - building up the islands. We would move bags of shingle in a rowing boat. 

Smaller Tempest

How did you develop a career in photography?

I was only 17 when I went to Blackpool Art College in the early 70s. A full time photographic course was rare, and all film then. Technically tough but I enjoyed it. Only five of us graduated out of a class of 70. We were employable and knew how to make a living. I got into cataloguing and advertising work and learnt about studio photography. I had a good time over my career, and worked in various places, including Japan and America. 

Now I create work to sell in galleries, including my own. With digital photography, there are many fantastic landscape and wildlife photographers. Almost none of what I do is digital. I'm naturally curious and turned my skills to the craft side. I make pieces using historical photographic processes using my own darkroom. I create toned silver gelatin photographs, salt prints and cyanotypes. 

One of my current projects is creating cyanotypes of flowers on the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. It involves coating watercolour paper in a light sensitive emulsion, placing flowers, such as cow parsley, on the paper, and exposing that to the sun to make a shadowgram. Then I rinse the unexposed emulsion away, leaving a white shadow of the plant on a blue background.

Smaller Fern

When did you notice wildlife?

My parents and siblings were all outdoor, country people. My brother Robert was always keen on birds and is a bird artist. We grew up in Lindfield and we spent a lot of our childhood outdoors. I'm not so much a bird watcher, but am interested in bees, and do surveying here and Dungeness. 

Smaller Blackstone Bottom

What are you interested in, photographically?

How humans have changed the landscape. How landscapes have developed. Projects to do with Neolithic sites - such as Long Barrows, stone circles and ritual sites. The timelessness, power and energy of ancient sites. 

At one point in my career, I was commissioned by the Countryside Agency to work on a project on the High Weald and the South Downs AONB, which included working with a landscape archaeologist. We looked at how an area of forest had developed - for example, how it was used in the iron industry.

Smalller Birling Gap

What has been most challenging to photograph?

Working in museums photographing artefacts could be tough. I remember a fantastically expensive, delicate original Tiffany glass lamp on Fifth Avenue, New York. I had to photograph it from above, balancing on a step ladder. 

Smaller Navigation Marker

What do you want to communicate with your work?

That lots of landscapes are magical, and how fantastic the British countryside is.

Where and when would you have taken your camera, if you could go anywhere?

To the Bronze age or Neolithic era, for the construction of Avebury ritual landscape.

Smaller Chanctonbury Ring

What equipment do you use?

I've got a lot of old film cameras. These include a large format wooden one, ancient Hasselblads, pinhole camera and Fuji panoramic.

Small Lamas Moon. Long Man of Wilmington

What about your photography technique?

I'm not a snap photographer. I sit down and look. I mull, and spend a lot of time just looking. I can visit a site and realise that the light, the time of day, or even the time of year isn't right and plan to come back to the same place to get the right shot.

Smaller Garden Cyanotype No 1

What do you find most challenging to photograph and why?

Landscapes in different weather conditions, because of the unpredictability of the landscape. The light can change so much.

Has anything unexpected happened?

A lot of what I do is experimental, so I have a tremendous failure rate! So much is uncontrollable. So lots of unexpected things happen.

Smaller Kingley Vale Yew

Tell us about the Avocet Gallery.

Morgan and I started the Avocet Gallery and Cafe Tearoom nine years ago and we've worked hard. We're pleased that we've got a reputation for an interesting selection of great art as well as delicious, locally-sourced food. 

You are both great supporters of the reserve and the Discovery Centre, thank you!

I've always supported the reserve, and was on the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve committee in the 1980s. Morgan is also now on the committee, wrote The Shingle Shore as a fundraiser for the reserve and currently edits the Friends newsletter. 

We have both supported the Discovery Centre since the project started and look forward to using the new building next year- always have.

More of Peter's photography here

And this is a film about Peter's work


  • Pat Roberts:

    18 Jun 2019 21:24:00

    Enjoyed reading your history Dr Barry Yates is my son in law so your name has often come up when we talk about the reserve
    The reserve has altered so much since Barry has been there
    I really like your blue and white pictures

  • Emma Chaplin:

    19 Jun 2019 12:37:37

    Thanks Pat. I’ll pass your comments onto Peter. Emma

Leave a comment