The Country Life project was originally an initiative from Tim Cornish at South East Arts, order who wanted to promote the George Garland collection, price held at Petworth House and at the West Sussex Records office in Chichester. Garland was a studio portraitist and chronicler of ‘old Sussex’, selling photographs of disappearing crafts and customs to the regional and national press. From his wooden studio in the garden of his home, Garland made portraits of the local population, including soldiers, shopkeepers, domestic servants and children. Garland worked with his wife, and it is likely that she took a proportion of the portraits given Garland’s consuming interest in country ways and the monotony of the work.
There were three commissions in the project, by Susan Lipper, Joachim Schmid and Chris Harrison, all of whom Val had worked with on exhibitions in the 1990s. In addition to this, Val compiled Numbered Portraits: Photographs by George Garland, published in 1996 and the work local photographer David Johnston was the subject of Long Walks, in 1999.
Val made the Country Life series of exhibition and books with Photoworks, then led by Anne McNeill, who was later succeeded by David Chandler, with Gordon MacDonald in charge of publishing. Photoworks was a flexible and well funded organization, (formerly the Cross Channel Photographic Mission) based in Maidstone and later in Brighton. Country Life was originally envisaged as an ongoing series of exhibitions in village halls around West Sussex. Three exhibitions (Chris Harrison, David Johnston and Numbered Portraits) were held in the Leconfield Hall in Petworth, where Val was assisted by Stephen Bull (who delivered an invitation to the opening of the show to every house in Petworth), and a set of Chris Harrison’s photographs was given to the Hall, though these were damaged by damp during the extended run.
Joachim Schmid’s commission was shown at Fabrica in Brighton. Local historian Peter Jerrome provided much information about Garland and contributed an essay to one of the publications.