Taking to the skies

Words by:
Caroline Bingham
Featured in:
June 2024

Lisa Harding has spent many years photographing the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and now her work is celebrated in a special book highlighting the historic aircraft. Interview by Kate Chapman.

By combing her passion for history and storytelling, photographer and artist Lisa Harding has captured and flown alongside some of the world’s most famous aircraft – but it is the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) which holds a special place in her heart.

Lisa has worked closely with and supported the BBMF – an RAF display team comprising an Avro Lancaster, six Supermarine Spitfires and two Hawker Hurricanes – for many years and found her connection to it deepened after discovering one of her ancestors was linked to the Lancaster bomber aircraft.

Her stunning aviation photos have featured in numerous national newspapers and an annually produced book, The View from the Fence, which recalls the highlights of the BBMF’s previous 12 months through her photographs.

Now she’s delighted to be releasing a larger book – The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in Pictures – which is due to be published in July by Horncastle based publisher Tempest.

The coffee-table style publication will feature more than 300 of Lisa’s photos, showing the historic aircraft in all their glory as well as captures of the crews, ground staff and other behind the scenes moments.

“I’m so proud, it’s a real pinch me moment to be releasing this book,” said Lisa, of Coningsby.

“As well as selecting more than 300 of my photos from the past 10 years, I’ve also written 8,000 words to accompany the images and captioned them too.

“It was really hard to narrow them down, but there are some really special moments in there, such as the visits of HM King Charles III, HRH The Prince of Wales and Sir David Jason.

“There are pictures of two Lancasters flying over Derwent Dam taken in 2014, photos from air shows, rehearsals for the Coronation flypast, and as well as the flights there are photos of the day-to-day happenings, the crew and the veterans I have been privileged to work with.

“Standing by the fence, I never know what I’m going to capture some days but living here in Lincolnshire, with the big skies and stunning scenery, no two days – and no two shots – are ever the same.”

Passion for arts
Lisa has always been passionate about the arts and storytelling. Growing up in the East End of London, she studied graphic design and typography at the London College of Printing during the 1990s. She says the college provided her with a fantastic grounding for learning the real art of photography and enabled her to develop a unique eye for a scene that tells a story, which she uses to perfect her shots.

She left the city, moving to Surrey, but when she was made redundant for the third time in just two years, Lisa decided to relocate north, to Lincolnshire, in 2016.

“From about 2014, I’d been spending a lot of time here in Lincolnshire anyway, because of the Lancasters. I was covering a lot of events that the BBMF did, and it was while I was doing that I learned more about my great-grandfather who had been an aircraft handler in the RAF.

“He was born in south London and worked alongside 97 Squadron at RAF Bourn, in Cambridgeshire. I’d always had a deep interest in the Lancaster, a deep connection and could never understand it until I found out more about my great-grandfather. That connection helped encourage me to make the move to Lincolnshire, where I quickly felt at home.”

During her time in the county, Lisa has also worked in graphic design and as the marketing executive at the Petwood Hotel while she pursued her photography, attending some events as an official press photographer. More recently she has been taking commissions for her own artwork too.

Creative designs
Having trained as a graphic artist, Lisa has developed a detailed drawing style which she says is in a similar vein to Edwardian and Victorian bookplates. She has completed a variety of pictures featuring local landmarks and buildings including Lincoln Cathedral, Harlaxton Manor, Boston Stump and the Petwood Hotel, as well as Admiralty Arch, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and Cliveden.

Lisa explains: “I like doing the art, but it’s very much a labour of love – I draw with a 0.05mm pen, on beautiful Japanese paper and some pieces can take many hours to complete, even days, due to the etching style.

“I’m often asked to personalise commissions by incorporating the BBMF into my work – drawing the planes going over Admiralty Arch for instance.

“I love doing it, but there are instances where I have turned down commissions as I believe my style just wouldn’t suit the building I’ve been asked to draw, and I wouldn’t want anyone to be disappointed with what I’ve produced. It is really a hobby – if I was doing it full-time, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much.”

A giant canvas
Lisa sells her artwork and takes commissions through her website, where she also sells prints of her photos, with orders coming in from all over the world.

She’s currently preparing for the release of her book, which has a foreword by former OCBBMF Squadron Leader Mark Discombe MBE AFC, and hopes it may become a series. She’s also looking forward to more exciting adventures with her photography both at RAF Coningsby and airshows around the country.

“I’ve had some amazing experiences following the BBMF and I’ve been lucky enough to fly alongside one of the only surviving Hurricanes from the Battle of Britain, taking air to air photos – I never thought these sorts of things would be possible when I was growing up in London,” says Lisa.

“Lincolnshire is a wonderful place – it’s a giant canvas for me, all the way through the different seasons, and it was the main place for my great-grandfather too, as well as those men who went before, that’s all tied in with the BBMF.

“It needs people like me, doing what I am doing through my photography – highlighting the work that Bomber Command did, sharing their stories so they are not forgotten when they are no longer here or able to share them themselves.

“That’s why I do it. I want to keep my promise to my great-grandfather – I’m never going to stop telling those stories, to keep gaining them more national attention and keep them in the public eye. Lest we forget – that’s what it’s all about.”

For more information about Lisa and her work visit www.lisahardingphoto.com

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in Pictures is published by Tempest Books.

Photographs: Courtesy of Lisa Harding

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