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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Yvette Monahan's Mountain Dwellers: Lonely or Troubled or Both

There are so many people who have photographed people who live beyond the suburban pale; people who live in buses and trees and dark and distant mountainsides. My favourites are Tom Hunter whose work has depth and sense of place that goes beyond the temporary (I think he might be the rare case of a photographer who is rated but still under-rated ) and Alessandro Imbriaco whose book The Garden is still one of my favourites; a homeless family living in a swamp in Rome! But done with sensitivity.

But sometimes I wonder if all the it isn't all a bit outlandish, a bit of a freakshow of those at the fringes of sociey. So when Yvette Monahan  told me about her new book, The Time of Dreaming the World Awake, I wondered if that wasn't just another oddity. It's about people who live on the mountain of Bugarach in France. That's the one where the world was going to end in 2012.

Then I thought again and thought about all the people I vaguely knew who had lived on mountainsides or become shepherds or had worked on farms in deep France selling maggot-infested cheese (the more maggots the better) to the locals.

And in the summer my cousin came to visit from where he now lives on Jeju Island in South Korea. But before he lived there he lived in a tree house in Oregon building cob houses and living in a virtually cash-free economy.

So perhaps my idea that living on a mountainside somewhere is odd is odd in itself, Perhaps it's me that has become so normalised to the British semi-suburban ideal that anything that is different seems frightening. Perhaps that's true of everything.

Anyway, Monahan's book is lovely. It's a bit of a fantasy that presents a mist-shrouded mountain where the return to the land is portrayed as a combination of a return to paradise and a hermetic retreat. The people who inhabit the mountain have beards and horns and nestle in the ferns like little hobbits. But sometimes they're old and seem a bit worn down. The mountain is misty but the habitations that Monahan photograph are remote isolated. Some of the lives she shows are reclusive rather than secluded; it's not all happy campers. Some of these people are lonely or troubled or both.

Buy the book here. 

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