Thursday, 7 October 2021

Lonk mania

Some time back I read an interview with a documentary photographer who travelled the world to take photographs of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The other day I read of another who had to leave their homeland in order to be inspired by other cultures. What a load of crap. If you look hard enough there is plenty out of the ordinary to be seen anywhere, and if you get involved at a local level you get a much deeper insight of and appreciation for what is going on. For all Martin Parr's global travel he still photographs in the UK and comes up with subjects which are far from ordinary for most people. Homer Sykes has been photographing in the UK for most of his life. Both have created huge and fascinating archives of British people being ordinary.

My accidental falling into the world of sheep shows and sales has provided me with plenty of pictures of ordinary folk doing things which are ordinary to them but extraordinary to outsiders like me. Until I delved into the history of Lonk sheep I would never have thought that  there was an annual sheep show which had been taking place for nigh on 300 years less than an hour's drive from where I live. But there is.

Ever since I found out about this show I've wanted to visit it. Unfortunately the date always clashed with my one chance to deal direct with my fishing rod customers which gave them a chance to get hands-on with my wares. In 2019 I decided to give this tackle show a miss and go photograph the Lonks. The best laid plans and all that saw me getting wildly lost and arriving too late. Last year the show was cancelled. This year the dates didn't clash. Although I ended up missing my tackle show through being ill. I'd recovered by the following weekend and, with the route firmly lodged in my head and a map by my side, I made it to the sheep show!

There was also a sheep dog trial taking place in the field nearby so I arrived early to take a look at that. The set up wasn't ideal for photography with the dogs running behind a fence which restricted my view. When the trailers began to arrive for the sheep show I headed up to it.

In practice it was like any other small sheep-only show. A few pens set up in a field. However this was Lonks only, which meant the real die-hard Lonk breeders were in attendance. Faces I hadn't seen showing at other, larger, shows.

Not only were the sheep of one breed, they were also the best of the best, in that it was a show restricted to those which are registered by the breed society as meeting all points on the breed standard. Sheep judged to be up to scratch are then horn branded as a sign of their status. This is something which I wasn't expecting to see. So it was a nice bonus when a pen of sheep were branded. This is a painless experience for the sheep as the horn is just like a fingernail and without feeling. There is lots of smoke though.

With that out of the way it was on to the judging of the many classes, which went on all morning and resumed after lunch. There wasn't anything markedly different to any other shows when it came to what went on, but I was getting pictures in a new location. There were also larger entries in many classes than at other shows.

This show was the first time the society secretary had to show my zine of Lonk show photos to the members with most events having been cancelled due to Covid-19 since she received it. Another copy I had given away at Kilnsey had also been passed around and I was pleasantly surprised how well it had been received. The comments people made to me about it and the whole thing of documenting their shows and sheep made it all worthwhile and convinced me to carry on.

A week later I was back at the mart for the first time since lockdown one. And I was photographing Lonks yet again! The occasion being the annual show and sale of registered sheep. I've attended this before so I knew what to expect. I had, unfortunately, forgotten how dimly lit the main shed is and found my latest favourite zoom lens just a little lacking in light gathering. I took most of my photos around the pens 'old school' using my 28mm and 50mm lenses. This worked surprisingly well. 

The day starts with sheep being penned, primped and their lot numbers for the sale attached.

That is followed by buyers weighing up which sheep they are going to bid on.

Next up is the show. There aren't as many classes as at the previous show, but entries in one class were much higher. How you pick the best from 27 sheep I have no idea. I went for a bacon and sausage butty while they were whittled down!

After all the classes have been judged the winners of each class come together for the selection of the champion and reserve.

With that done the auction could commence.

The 'dance' of breeder and sheep is always likely to provide pictures which convey the action taking place. It's tricky to get good angles as positions outside the ring are limited and the buyers have more right to be ringside than I do. So it's quite challenging. Which is what makes it interesting.

Autumn is when the tups go in with the ewes, so this is when there are plenty of sales taking place for sheep farmers to select new blood for the breeding season. That means I'll be back for more in the near future!

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