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back to Book Reviews

A Camera in the Hills
The Life and Work of W. A. Poucher by Roly Smith.
Published by Frances Lincoln ISBN 978-0-7112-2898-6

A Camera In The HillsW. A. Poucher is quite rightly recognised as one of the greatest outdoor photographers and writers of the 20th century, but until I read this biography I did not realise what a fascinating person he was in other aspects of his life. I discovered, for example, that he was the head perfumier with Yardley Cosmetics for thirty years and often wore mascara, blusher and lipstick whilst out on the fells in order to test their waterproof capabilities.

Comparisons with Wainwright are often made as far as Poucher is concerned. Both first visited the Lake District when they were in their early twenties (Poucher was 21, Wainwright 23); both were bowled over by Lakeland and also in due course by the hills of Scotland. In their later years, they both produced books not only about these areas but also about Wales, the Peak District, the Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales. Both became highly respected in their professional careers, but whereas Wainwright spurned publicity, Poucher appeared much more outgoing when it came to promoting his books, probably because he had travelled extensively through his work. When Poucher died in 1988, AW wrote to his son John Poucher, saying, ‘He has been a hero of mine since his Lakeland Through the Lens was published. He was a perfectionist with the camera and I greatly admired all his work in the last fifty years.’

As well as chapters on Poucher’s career and the years spent photographing in the hills of Britain, there are also sections chapters about his personal life and his service in the military field hospitals of France during World War I. It was this experience, particularly seeing the horrific injuries of soldiers after the Battle of the Somme, which led him to change his mind about his future career: he had planned to become a doctor, but decided after the war to return instead to the job he had had with Yardley before the war. He was so successful and well paid by Yardley that he needed only to work for them for six months of the year, enabling him to devote the remainder of his time to photography. He would often spend all day waiting on the fells for the ‘perfect’ shot, and may be this is why his books have proved so popular. He sold over 750,000 copies of his various books and 121 million of his pictures have been used in various publications over the years.

The book is liberally punctuated with photographs of Poucher’s personal life as well as many of his outdoor scenes, making it not only a fascinating read but also a record of examples of his magnificent work. For anyone who has obtained any of Poucher’s guides or photographic books over the years, this biography is a must!

reviewed by John Burland - Member No. 2