WHEN dog walkers come across Matthew Conduit in the depths of some Sheffield wood, camera on a tripod, head under a black sheet, body barely moving, they often mistake him for a bird spotter.
He’s nothing of the sort.
“I’m more of a twig spotter,” says the 52-year-old. “That’s what I’m taking photos of. Twigs and branches and the undergrowth. They make absolutely fascinating pictures. In fact, if a bird or any animal gets into shot, I wait until its gone before I take the photo.”
Sounds a little...unusual?
Well, maybe so but such unusualness is making Matthew, of Albert Road, Meersbrook, something of a darling in the art world.
His pictures are currently on show at the Sheffield Institute Of Art Gallery, while publishers Contours has released an accompanying book. And both are receiving some critical acclaim.
“The show has been really well received,” says the father-of-three. “People look at them and think they’ve been taken in some far flung place that’s untouched by man, but when they find they are from somewhere in Sheffield, they find it fascinating.
“I like that because it shows nature is often actually left to run rampant in our cities but we just don’t open our eyes to it.”
Certainly, one could be forgiven for assuming the selection shown here come from at least the Peak District – rather than Meersbrook, Ecclesall and Blackamoor.
“I love the Peak District,” says Matthew, who moved here to study fine art at Sheffield Hallam University in the 1980s and has stayed ever since. “But it is so highly maintained that it is very difficult to find areas which haven’t some evidence of human managing.
“I did start taking pictures there but, because of that, I found myself returning to the city to places like Ecclesall Woods and Owler Bar where you get these incredible patterns just developing through nature just being left alone.”
It is a far cry from Matthew’s last public exhibition, some 20 years ago, which captured the industrialised Don Valley.
In the intervening decades he played a key role in the creation of Sheffield’s Cultural Industrial Quarter where Site gallery, The Workstation and the Showroom Cinema are all based before working as a consultant on regeneration projects around the country.
Then in 2009 he received an Arts Council grant to explore Sheffield’s green spaces by camera, and, thus, sprung up this latest project.
Not that he necessarily sees himself as a photographer per se.
“I like to think I’m a painter but using a camera,” says Matthew. “What’s important is capturing the detail of these landscapes so I didn’t use a digital camera because the pictures wouldn’t show the level of detail I wanted unless you’re using something that cost about £15,000.”
Instead he picked up an old style plate camera to bring out the minuscule. And it seems to have worked – apart from one little thing.
That policy of not showing wildlife? It didn’t quite come off.
“When I was putting the 40 pictures together for the exhibition I noticed there was a blue tit hiding in a tree in one which I hadn’t seen at the time,” laughs Matthew. “I thought about not using the picture but I liked it somehow. It’s barely visible anyway. I challenge anyone to find it.”
The exhibition, called Chora, runs at Sheffield Institute Of Art Gallery, in Arundel Street, to September 7. The book is available from www.matthewconduit.com