The Joe Cornish Gallery, which has turned Northallerton into the focal point for amateur and professional landscape photographers across Britain and beyond, closes today.

For the man behind the gallery, regularly described as Britain’s greatest landscape photographer – although he would be mortified to be addressed as such – it’s the right time to close the venue he set up jointly 20 years ago.

And he certainly won’t miss having his name above the door. “I always hated that,” he reveals, preferring the idea that it is a collective and not a one man show. He will miss the community, the fun and the showcase it has been for other artists’ work, as well as his own. The reality is the gallery doesn’t make a profit. Joe is 65 and is keen to move on while he can still walk miles and climb mountains.

The Northern Echo: Joe Cornish in his Northallerton gallery, which closes today

He says: “I am not getting any younger, next year I will be retirement age. We have found it very difficult over the last two years as a small team with five full time staff and a few part timers.

“The fault lies with me, I am not a businessman. Maybe in the past you could get away with that; now if you don’t have a strong focus on making money you can’t expect to just sail along without expertise.

“It’s nearly 20 years since we opened. Friends persuaded me and we went into partnership. Our main colleague retired a few years back; she was the one with the ideas and the business brain. It became clear early on I personally wouldn’t make much out of the business, but there was the potential for it to be a collective enterprise that could benefit many. It has always been fun to be part of. I have continued my photography career separately, while contributing new work to the gallery. For many years, especially once the cafe was established, we made just enough from sales to keep going.

“I have learned a lot. It has become a showcase for other photographers, and it’s been great to be part of that community, and of local people. The pandemic was a major problem. Before then we were just about breaking even, but since it has gone the other way. Now we have no choice but to close.”

The Northern Echo: Joe Cornish's Northallerton gallery, which closes today

Born in Exeter, Joe studied at Reading University before heading to America, then back in London where his career as a photographer took off. Settling in the north was “all about a girl” says Joe. His beloved wife Jenny was brought up in Stokesley and its surrounding villages, and when their first child was born they didn’t want to stay in London with its traffic and pollution.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision to move North, and it has been fantastic here,” he says. “I love Yorkshire. I love where we live, and there is something edgy and interesting about living near the industrial Teesside landscape. Although I am a nature person first and foremost, understanding the necessary contrasts and contradictions of the human world, that’s important.”

For Joe the move meant some of the greatest landscapes in Britain were on his doorstep. He reckons roughly 50 per cent of his photographs are of the North York Moors, 30 per cent from elsewhere in the North of England, and ten per cent from Scotland. The world’s extreme environments also hold an unending fascination, and Joe has made numerous trips to the Arctic and the Antarctic.

“I love the beauty of those regions, they are so untamed, so wild. And ice is so magical, photographically-speaking,” he adds.

The Northern Echo: More than half his photographs have been of the North York Moors and Coast

Fitness and exercise are important. Joe is a keen camper and walker, needs to be outside, and has a deeply ingrained link to the landscapes and environments he loves. He is desperately concerned about climate change and habitat destruction.

Hi son Sam is a climate scientist and Joe hopes one day to work in collaboration with him. “We don’t pay nearly enough attention to the world around us, at least if we are to have a future with nature,” says Joe. “The environment and the natural world were essential to our ancestors, and remain so for us, but we have built a society where we isolate ourselves from nature. I am energised by feeling there is a purpose to landscape photography, or at least knowing I am part of the conversation. My work is not about me, it is about our environment and building momentum around the need to change, so we preserve life for future generations.”

The Northern Echo: One of Joe's beloved landscapes

The issue for many professional photographers now is everybody with a mobile phone in their pocket is a photographer. That can devalue their work, and there seems little doubt that even for masters such as Joe there is not the kind of financial return there once was.

This has made life difficult for the people whose job it is. And while Joe always encourages aspiring photographers, he now makes his living leading workshops, writing and speaking, not from print sales, or photographic commissions. He is still dedicated to his traditional cameras, but going digital has transformed the process and cut down the carbon footprint associated with film and processing. And he insists: “The best photographs are often luck, perseverance and practice.”

While the future for him will always be with a camera, the building which has become beloved as the Joe Cornish Gallery and café, despite his dislike of the title, is uncertain. The photographic community involved and Joe especially is keen that it should carry on in some form and conversations are being held.

The Northern Echo: Joe Cornish in the Gallery which closes today

He says: “I am really hopeful something can be done. I may have disliked my name being on the front of the building, but the gallery has brought a lot of joy and artistic inspiration to thousands of visitors, local and beyond. It would be a shame if it cannot carry on in some form.”

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At the time of writing, Joe said negotiations are under way with a local community group of artists, craft workers and traders to utilise the gallery building. Some form of cafe/bistro is part of the plan, and the idea is to ensure the building retains an artistic and cultural value for Northallerton, its residents and visitors. There may even be some of Joe’s prints on display as well.