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  • Fame on Biblioscapes...

    A hogmanay special interview by Euan Ross... Biblioscapes, for those of you who haven't come across it yet, is a blog dedicated to photo books. Conceived and written by Euan Ross, the site reviews a wide range of photographers and their approaches. It's an excellent and fascinating resource and I heartily recommend you to take a look. A few weeks ago I had the very great pleasure to chat to Euan about my previous two books, Landscape Within and Landscape Beyond, and my plans for an as yet untitled third volume. We also discussed a few of my favourite photo books, from Paul Wakefield to Geoff Dyer. Biblioscapes

  • Latest Newsletter...

    My latest newsletter is hot off the digital presses... Enjoy!

  • Namibia

    The trip of a lifetime to undiscovered country... There are no longer any barriers to running next January's Namibia photo tour, following this week's announcement by the UK Govt. that they are scrapping the Red List Covid restrictions. In thirty plus years of travelling with my camera there have been just a handful of countries that I have visited that immediately gripped my imagination and fired my creativity. Namibia probably ties for first place on that list (you'll have to wait to find out which country it ties with!). As well as visiting its most famous sights, this tour will take participants to some rarely visited parts of this starkly beautiful country, providing photographers with some exclusive and exceptional opportunities. This really is the trip of a lifetime and I can hardly wait to share my passion for these places with my fellow travellers!

  • '22 Update...

    New tours and workshops added... I am very pleased to announce that, due to high demand, I have added a new Iceland in Winter workshop, co-led by Daniel Bergmann, in early February next year. We will be visiting some well-known locations but concentrating on seeing them in a different way. Daniel also has some new surprises up his sleeve... I've just got back from a very successful Norway in autumn tour, based in Senja. We had wonderful still conditions and some sublime light. We have booked the same accommodation for next year as it is an ideal place for exploring the north coast, with some superb woodland right on the doorstep. You can find full details here. Finally, I am making final preparations for next year's Picos de Europa tour. This is one of my favourite regions of Spain with medieval villages amidst majestic mountain scenery. The tour includes a breathtaking 4x4 safari along roads closed to the public. Full details will be released soon...

  • Autumn is Coming...

    I've just returned from two weeks in Arctic Norway, visiting the islands of Kvaløya and Senja. Autumn arrives early this far north of the Arctic Circle and in my opinion the foliage colours here are amongst the finest anywhere in the world. I'm still sorting through my images but have uploaded a few, starting with a beautiful birch bark curl. Hit the cross to go back to the Latest Gallery page so you can scroll through the first eight. I hope you and my other subscriber enjoy them!

  • Acquisitions & Inquisitions

    The second part of my mini-series on different approaches to making photographs has just been published in On Landscape. Do You Work in Acquisitions?, part one of the series, is free to read but I'm afraid you will need to pay a subscription to access Nobody Expects the Inquisition. On Landscape is an amazing resource for photographers interested in landscape with some excellent writing from the likes of Guy Tal and Joe Cornish as well as some wonderful, thought provoking images. Hopefully "...Acquisitions" will persuade you that it's worth subscribing!

  • I'm on The Telly... Sort of!

    Alister Benn has just published part one of his interview with me on his Vision & Light YouTube channel. We had a really interesting chat, touching on many different aspects of the life creative. Enjoy! P.S. Part two will be published on Wednesday 8th September, 2021.

  • The 3 Ages of a Photographer

    Why entering a second childhood is good for your photography... In “As You Like It”, William Shakespeare proposed seven ages of man; from infant through schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice and “pantaloon” to second childhood, "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything". I’d like to propose a somewhat more modest three ages of a photographer. I’m afraid that my version won’t be presented in iambic pentameter! But, you’ll no doubt be relieved to know that my version of the final state doesn’t involve the loss of either appendages or faculties. Here goes… Novice We can probably all remember the eager state we felt when we first became interested in photography; we pored over every article on technique and read every description of new gear. We wanted to accumulate every morsel of knowledge we came across and work out how to apply it in the best possible way. But this isn’t like cramming for an exam, this is play and playing is (contrary to what some people may tell you!) one of the most important and rewarding things that you can do with your life. A Zen maxim has it that we should, ‘Develop an infallible technique, then put ourselves at the mercy of inspiration.’ This early period of informal, avid study lays the foundations of craft for later creative exploration. But it’s not all positive; there will inevitably be growing pains as setbacks often accompany our advances in technique and creativity. We may also realise, as we learn more, how much there is left to learn. And this can be more than a little daunting. Journeyman This is the age of experience. You’ve served your apprenticeship; you’ve reached a certain level of technical and compositional competence (it’s been a while since you really screwed up an exposure or had serious trouble working out how you wanted to approach a subject). Some might even feel a little smug at this stage; you can do this and what’s more you’ve got the awards/recognition of your peers to prove it. Many photographers don’t age beyond this point, you might say that they stay put in cosy middle age. It’s easy to see why. All the angst that you suffered learning your craft is in the past. You’ve developed a set of strategies for making images that broadly give good results. No, you won’t always make a masterpiece. But the images are generally pretty good. All those years of study have paid off and you feel comfortable with your work. You feel that this is it; you’ve become a photographer at last. But this is the most dangerous age for a creative photographer. Standing still isn’t an option if you want to grow creatively and not growing should never be an option. Ironically, to grow I think that one needs to return to childhood. Second childhood Play is one of the greatest joys of childhood, but it needn’t stop there, and it needn’t be child’s play. When Plato said, “Life must be lived as play.” he didn’t mean that we should treat our allotted time as a bit of a lark. He meant that we should approach every activity with joy, enthusiasm and the willingness to learn and experiment with which we inevitably set about the activity of play. According to musician, author and educator Stephen Nachmanovitch, play is the root and foundation of creativity in the arts and sciences: "…all creative acts are forms of play, the starting place of creativity" Great photographers never stop playing with the medium and many have written about the advantages of adopting childlike wonder at our world. The American photographer Minor White felt that it was important “…to see as an adult sees who has gone full circle and once again sees as a child - with freshness and an even deeper sense of wonder.” Bill Brandt wrote that, “It is part of the photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveller who enters a strange country.” Brandt ably demonstrated this attitude in both his nudes and his landscape work. Blessed with this attitude the French photographer Jaques Henri Lartigue (who started taking photographs when he was just seven) continued making surprising and quirky images, like the one above, well into his ninth decade. My own three ages… My novice period was quite prolonged, stretching from my first camera (a Kodak Instamatic at eleven years of age) right through to five years after I graduated. This included using my dad’s fold out 6x6 camera at sixteen, making my first B/W print at eighteen, three years at college and another three years as a photographer’s assistant. All that time was spent learning enough to simply be able to realise my artistic aims. Once I began getting commissioned work, there was always the fear that the next job might not go as well as I wanted it to. I still have dreams where I’ve turned up for a job without my film, or too late, or without a camera! Such anxiety meant that it didn’t immediately dawn on me that I had entered my journeyman phase. But one day I realised that it had been a few years since I’d messed up an editorial commission. There was, naturally some relief in this. Gradually I grew in confidence and worried less. Although, the fact that I still have those dreams means that a fear of failure is still deep rooted in me, like people who have nightmares about turning up for an interview naked. Thank goodness that’s never happened to me… yet! After almost a decade as a “professional” I realised that the demands of earning a living as a photographer had mostly beaten the cra… creativity out of me. I was bored with taking pictures for commissions and eager to begin making images for me. Of course, the economic reality of trying to provide for a young family and pay a mortgage made this seem like an impossible choice. I was fortunate to be offered the chance to work as a photographic tutor in what was then the very new field of photographic tours and workshops. This alternate income gave me the opportunity to begin to play with my camera again. It’s not the fear of being unable to put bread on the table that stops the majority of photographers from being more creative. Rather, it’s peer pressure that holds them back. Camera clubs and social media tend to have a normative effect that subtly discourages experimentation. Whichever way you look at it, expectations are the biggest reason photographers don’t enter their second childhood. We either want to meet other people’s presuppositions or we’re happy with our own idea of what constitutes a good photo. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with simple contentment, there is, I think, something sad about trying to match other people’s ideas of what constitutes a good photo. Of course, it’s scary to leave the comfortable “doing alright”, “accomplished” zone because we know that when we enter uncharted territory misteps are bound to happen. But leaving my journeyman phase and marching gladly into my second childhood was the best thing that had happened to me as a photographer since I left college. I would never have made images like the one at the beginning of this article - or this one from Lindisfarne - if I had stayed in my comfort zone. As I have written elsewhere, I have made many more unsuccessful images in this phase than as a journeyman. But I don’t worry about that. Fearless experimentation is the way forward. Armed with the skills we acquired as “novices” and the experience we acquired as “journeymen”, our second childhood as photographers will be the age in which we make the most interesting images. So, go on, regress a little; become a child again!

  • A Sense of Wonder

    “... amazement at subject matter [is why I started to photograph].” Edward Weston A sense of wonder was certainly what motivated me to become a photographer but there are many kinds of wonder. Initially, for me, it was wonderment at process. Arthur C Clarke once wrote that, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I certainly felt in the presence of magical forces whilst making my first black and white print. Standing in a darkroom, illuminated by the otherworldly glow of a red safe light, I watched with fascination and increasing excitement as the image bloomed on the surface of the blank sheet in the development tray. I feel a little sad for photographers who have only ever seen a print regurgitated, laboriously by an inkjet printer. All the magic that I felt is missing. A new wonder arose when I started using transparency film. But before I could get a chance to wonder at any individual transparency I had to contend with delayed gratification. There were none of the reassurances that digital photography now supplies; no histogram to confirm that I hadn’t made a huge exposure error nor thumbnail image to affirm or repudiate my compositional choices. At a minimum it would be hours before the freshly processed sheet was in my hand. Quite often it was weeks. As quickly as I could get it there, the transparency would be upon the lightbox and I would be using a loupe to examine every square centimetre in detail. If, when I made the image, everything had worked as it should then this was one of the most wonderful experiences in photography. The pristine beauty of a sheet of Velvia is incredible. An image produced with transmitted light has a vibrancy and depth that can never be matched by a print. For me, the transparency was the finished product; I needed no further verification or justification of my choices. There was no need to print it or publish it. I was done, my photographic desire satiated. I miss those moments. In thirty years as a photographer, the way I make images has changed dramatically. The quiet, deliberate ritual using a 5x4 view camera has gone, replaced by a faster, more reflective process with a digital mirrorless camera. Unlike a transparency, the digital image arrives incomplete. It is, in Ansel Adam’s terms, more akin to a negative; it represents a score which requires a performance to bring it to life. In Ansel’s era the performance took place in the darkroom; in the current era it’s more likely to be in Lightroom. Whatever the process, my feeling of astonishment when I behold a new, satisfying image has not dimmed. Even before I began photographing using transparency film I became fascinated with the difference between how I see and how the camera sees. This realm of wonder seems endless. Wonder at subject gradually overtook my wonder at process. However wondrous, process is only a foundation. It is, after all, the content of the images that we should pay the most attention to. Content and technique are intertwined in a symbiotic relationship. But a fascination in the process or attendant technology alone will never lead to images that intrigue, surprise or make an audience’s heart beat faster. I often tell my students that no one ever wept simply because a photo was perfectly sharp or perfectly exposed. You might stand in front of one of your images and weep because it isn’t, but that’s quite a different story. Rather than perfect rendering, moving the viewer should be the highest ambition of every photographer. Perhaps we are led astray by the manufacturers’ constant enticements to acquire their latest offerings. Be it hardware or software, there is a tendency amongst some photographers to place too high a value on equipment or technique. The quality of these matter little if the resulting images lack emotion, depth or subtlety. One need only think of Robert Capa’s famous photographs from the D-Day landings to realise that quality in a photograph is about so much more than sharpness, resolution, accurate colour rendition or any one of a hundred other attributes that we are constantly being told are paramount. In one sense the photographic process failed Capa; working in low light he push-processed the film resulting in very grainy images. Most are also not sharp; it’s hard to stand perfectly still in pounding surf whilst bullets scream past your ears. In fact the few crisply focused frames seem lacking in energy and drama. Yet the images speak powerfully to us, both because and in spite of their technical failings. The chaos and fear of battle is expressed in the very grain of each snatched and blurry frame, in a way that would never be possible with perfectly exposed and sharp images. The all too few frames move us because we can imagine ourselves in the photographer’s shoes. What matters in these images is the perfect synergy of content and the visual language used to express it. I’m not for one moment suggesting that technique doesn’t matter, rather that it is of little importance if it doesn’t support the content of the photograph. One of the great joys that photography has brought me is that it has opened my eyes to the world around me in a way that I doubt would have happened otherwise. Landscape has provided the cloth from which I have tailored my images. I don’t think Weston meant wonder simply at the object photographed. The subject of a great photograph is rarely that which is baldly delineated by light on a photographic emulsion or a sensor plane. It matters little, however, what we photograph. What is important is that we should be at least as passionate, if not more passionate, about our subject than we are about the photographic process. We need to find wonder anew in even the smallest detail each time we make an image. If this balance isn’t achieved we are unlikely to produce images that speak of more than superficial aesthetic concerns. My aim is to make images with my subject not of my subject. The places where I make photographs fill me with wonder and inspire me to form an understanding of them, however imperfect. I try to express those complementary feelings through my images and hopefully enlighten and amaze the viewer. Just making a technically good, classically composed image isn’t enough. Photography has the ability to transcend its subject, to do so much more than just make aesthetically pleasing illustrations. Powerful images distil something of the wonder we find in the world and this is what keeps me amazed after thirty years of collecting light and time.

  • From Peak to Shining Peak...

    In the dim, though not so distant, past I used to make images using a 35mm film camera and I would feel content if around one image in six was good. Let’s not get the wrong idea here; I’m not referring to photographs that were wildly exciting or career changing or, heaven forbid, life changing. I’m not even referring to what Ansel Adams called epiphanies. Sadly, the vast majority of these images didn’t provide me with sudden revelations or insights. These “good” images simply met my general level of expectation; they were well exposed, reasonably sharp and passably well composed. The real beauties only came along rarely and I think Ansel’s estimate of a dozen such images a year is still pretty accurate. It’s tempting to think (especially in this digital age) that the only reason Ansel had so few “stonkers” was because producing each image was such a faff. Obviously making a photograph with a large format camera isn’t like using a modern DSLR; there’s no built in meter or autofocus for a start. And when using a 10x8 the process normally proceeds at a stately pace and in an almost ritualistic fashion. But I don’t think that there’s a strong correlation between high production rate and the creation of a large number of great images - though there is a good argument for regular practice benefiting the quality of our work. If it were a simple matter of numbers we would surely have seen a huge upsurge in amazing photography in the last ten years. Unfortunately, the reverse seems to be the case, with websites drowning us in a deluge of mediocre imagery. In my early twenties I started making images regularly on a 5x4. This move coincided with my hit rate increasing significantly from the one in six I mentioned earlier to around six out of ten. For the mathematically challenged (and I had to get a calculator to work this out!) that’s an increase of over 43% from 16.66% to 60%. Of course, 68.7% of all statistics are made up… And this figure is hardly the result of rigorous analysis. But surely, I reasoned, such a big change must be significant. Might it even be a sign that - at the advanced age of 23 - I’d finally become a photographer? This conclusion is clearly of dubious worth - not least because I was acting as arbiter of my own success in a field that is notorious for not having any fixed criteria to use as benchmarks. Over the intervening decades I noticed what I took to be a worrying trend. My hit rate of good images has steadily and significantly fallen, to perhaps as low as 20%. For someone who only made a total of around 300 5x4 images in a good year, this drop was particularly distressing. Sixty good images seemed such a paltry number compared to one hundred and eighty. And now I’ve entered the digital age - not an easy transition for someone more in tune with a slower pace of life – and I still find myself making fewer images than most of my peers. The potential to make thousands of images in a day has, for me, been a disincentive to do so. That’s not just a sign of me being a contrarian. Partly it’s that I don’t actually see that many possibilities. Partly it’s that I believe it’s best to take my time. Indeed I have deliberately eschewed such speed advantages as auto focus. Instead, I use manual focus lenses on a tilt/shift adaptor. Obviously, there are times (such as shooting sports or wildlife) when continuous shooting increases your chance of success. But the landscape rarely changes fast enough to warrant making more than a handful of exposures an hour. What does change is our relationship to it. As we become more in tune with a place or an idea we see new possibilities. This evolution necessarily means that we rarely get the shot at our first attempt. But I digress… The encouraging news is that I feel my best images are still an improvement over my previous efforts. But the question remains, why have I become a less productive photographer? Might it simply be that over forty years I have, both in terms of art and craft, become pickier? That’s certainly a large part of the reason for the change. It’s natural that one becomes more critical of the finished images. But surely this critical faculty should also mean that one made fewer mistakes and more winners? If this were true, with enough practice, we should all get to a stage where every image is a winner. There are a few reasons why I feel this doesn’t happen. Firstly, as touched upon above, there’s the question of timing. I used to know a photographer who referred to days when you never seemed to be in quite the right place as being rich in fifteen minute weather. Walking across the landscape you might spy the possibility for a photograph some way off but by the time you get there the cloud has gone or the sun passed behind a hill. Similarly, you might walk past something and then glance back a while later to see it bathed in glorious light. In landscape photography, and many other genres, opportunity and timing are key. Missing that decisive moment is maddening but also to some extent inevitable. Planning may reduce the chances of “failure” but can never completely eliminate it. Of course the way to get around this is to make lemonade (otherwise known as adapting to circumstances). Secondly, the process of distilling an image is actually a very complex one. I have written elsewhere of my belief that making a photograph involves solving a very complicated multi-dimensional and multi-faceted puzzle. To further complicate matters, there is no single correct answer to the puzzle. Some images may be felt to be better than others. But, because of the medium’s inherent subjectivity, what appeals to me most is not necessarily the image that an audience will find the most appealing. Of course, we’re also standing on the shifting sands of time and last year’s favourite image might fall from favour at any moment. Finally, and most importantly, I feel we need to fail in order to succeed. Whilst searching for a solution most people sketch with the camera. Each test image might be considered a partial failure but each teaches us something more about how to solve the problem at hand. I now picture image making as a journey across a landscape of the mind. In this analogy, winning images are particularly fine views from high peaks. From every summit we attain we can see other, distant and indistinct - but perhaps loftier - prominences. In order to reach them we must lose height and drop into a cloud-shrouded, swampy hinterland. The route to those new mountains lies hidden. The less successful images that we make belong to this region, where we’re unsure of the way ahead and may get mired in irrelevances. But, though the images we make on this portion of the journey are less satisfying, they are no less important. The crucial fact is that we can only reach the mountaintops by traversing this lower landscape. So, every image - no matter how humble - is a necessary step on the journey from one shining peak to another. It might even let you make the leap from true mountains to a shining peak of the mind.