Northumberland photographer focuses on ancient history of Hadrian's Wall lichen

An exhibition of images by Iain Duncan reveals the colourful natural story around Hadrian's Wall


What did the Romans do for us? Well, Hadrian’s Wall might be a striking example of their achievements but a new exhibition reminds us that its location nurtured an interesting history of its own long before the enterprising invaders got to work building their stone frontier.

Local photographer Iain Duncan has spent more than two years exploring the natural history around the Northumberland landmark and he will be telling the story of its ancient lichens in an exhibition of images opening in Hexham this month.

And what he has found in the examples of natural growth overlooked by visitors to the wall is a wealth of information which, in greatly magnified photographs, reveal to viewers an extraordinary range of textures and colours.

Photographer Iain Duncan
Photographer Iain Duncan

Lichen: a Beauty Exposed, will run in the main gallery and foyer of the town’s Queen’s Hall from October 18 until November 22, marking the culmination of Hexham-based Iain’s project which has seen him photograph rich collections of lichens on the central section of Hadrian’s Wall as well as in the immediate vicinity of the world heritage site: along the Hadrian’s Wall Corridor which extends 10 miles to the north and south.

He said: “The aim of this project is to introduce audiences to part of the far more holistic and continuing story of Hadrian’s Wall, beyond the time of ancient Rome, and to raise awareness of a natural colonisation which is ongoing.”

With the wall in situ since 122AD, the eco-system of mature lichen colonies are of great environmental importance and Iain hopes that raising public awareness about them will help ensure the ancient life form will survive for the next millennium.

Lichens on Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland, on show in an exhibition of photographs by Iain Duncan
Lichens on Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland, on show in an exhibition of photographs by Iain Duncan

“Lichens tell a story about the type of stone they are growing on, how old it is and its history. They are also barometers of pollution,” he said.

His lichen photographs “focus on colour, texture and pattern” he said and the idea is that they will link to other art projects during the run of the exhibition, with linked workshops being led by Iain, popular local poet Linda France and Johanna Sheehan who will be holding meditative session with gongs and instruments in the gallery space. Anyone interested can call Queen’s Hall 01434 652 477.

On-site workshops will also be held at the wall by Janet Simkin from the British Lichen society.


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