‘WITTY, generous, humane’: Billie Charity, the Welsh border’s resident and prolific photographer belongs to that rare breed. Hard-working, highly productive, celebrated in her craft: and all heart.

Ask any of her subjects – there are legions of them – and they will say the same. An empathy and an admiration for people drives Billie, who is never without her trusty camera. Hence her work glows with warmth and understanding, respect and quite often a touch of quirkiness.

She captures her subjects in real situations, interacting with one another and with their environment: thus the latter-day ‘milkmaid’, draped in ankle-length apron, cow-muck daubed on her arms, has an arresting luminosity. Meanwhile, a striking Hay-on-Wye proprietor with long grey hair stands on the threshold of her emporium, beside her a brief notice: ‘Sorry no eating of fish and chips out of paper bags in this shop’.

This photograph is currently on show among the winners and finalists in the British Life Photography Awards at Mall Galleries just off Trafalgar Square. Billie’s greatest gift is not just her craftsmanship but the fact that her work nudges everyone to stop and look at the ordinary and the everyday, and note the beauty within.

Her canvas is broad. The artist’s statement says it all: ‘My photos combine observed reality with the intrinsic quirkiness of landscape, situation and portraiture; they reflect my attitude to life and art.’

She continues: ‘I wander round city streets and take discreet photos of people in real situations, capturing them interacting with one another and with their environment in ways that they may not be aware of.’

Billie lives at Clifford with her husband, Dave and their daughters 12-year-old Mabel and nine-year-old Dora and takes classic portrait-style photographs. “I put people at their ease and disarm them, then capture their response.”

From a portfolio of candid shots – her subjects going about their everyday business – it’s clear that Billie is ever watchful. “I don’t switch off!” she admits. “I’m always looking for a photograph!”

Her children prefer not to join their mother on visits to Hay. “I can’t walk through the town without stopping to talk – it takes me three hours to get from one end to the other so they won’t come with me!”

Town and country are equally alluring for Billie, the fascination for humanity ever present. In the Brecon Beacons she has made enthralling studies of those who live and work there – a commission came along to mark the national park’s 60th anniversary. “I had to go around taking pictures of people in the landscape – the setting or background is just as important; people and their environment working together in ways they might not be aware of.”

Back in town she focuses on shoppers in the street, a tableau of customers in cafes or pubs, or resting on a bench. She loves that her pictures make people smile. Such as her recent studies of proprietors and clients in hairdressing salons or barber shops – all set against wallpaper of varying depths and colours.

Her own upbringing has given Billie a wide urban and rural scope. She lived in London where her father, Roger Charity was already a successful fashion photographer. When she was four, the family returned to Herefordshire. Later on she moved back to the capital where she worked for the BBC. “I worked in the learning department, educational programmes and websites,” she explains.

“I met Dave and we moved back here to Hay 15 years ago.”

With parenthood came the need for more photographs. “I have always taken hundreds of photographs and when we had the kids I was taking more.” Her pictures were good. Friends and relatives started queueing up for the Billie Charity touch. As her portfolio was building, she decided to take the plunge.

“It really started five years ago,” she says. Since then her reputation has soared, and awards are piling up at her door.

“I mostly have the camera with me,” she says. When an interesting face comes along, she seizes the moment. “I love people, I love everybody!” she laughs. “I am just fascinated by people.”

Her artistic drive is not motivated by the smart, the elegant, the perfectly attired. She loves subjects with a lived-in look, maybe a few wrinkles, often a touch of eccentricity.

“I love elderly people and I love chatting with them. They mostly give me their life stories.” A new project for Billie is a photographic study of twins and she has appealed for participants living within a 20-mile radius of Hay. Next month she will be running a street photography workshop in the town for 10 – 18-year-olds as part of Bookstagram. During this year’s Hay Festival Billie’s work will be featured in a special exhibition at the River Café, Glasbury-on-Wye.

A spin-off of her Women in Farming project is a collaboration with journalist Jane Wheatley. “We have been following three of the women for over a year,” says Billie. The results of their endeavours will be appearing in a book. A noted author and editor, Jane penned that apt description of Billie Charity: “A witty, generous and humane photographer.” And that says it all.