Disappointment, reflection and something more beautiful

Karl / Blog / / 16 Comments
Disappointment, reflection and something more beautiful

Let’s cut to the chase, I didn’t make the shortlist for LPOTY this year, in fact I’ve never made the shortlist despite a few attempts over the last 5 years or so, and it smarts.  For those of you who aren’t fellow landscape photographers, LPOTY is the Landscape Photographer of the Year Competition, an annual celebration of superb landscape imagery from the UK, culminating, for those who are lucky enough, in a treasured piece of real estate in the annual book and a place in the exhibition in London. It truly is a great thing, conceived and orchestrated by the very man whose work inspired me to take this lark seriously in the first place Charlie Waite, and my god have I coveted my own little piece of real estate between those hallowed covers since its inception.

So getting home from a hard week at work yesterday evening, firing up the laptop and seeing fellow twitterati celebrating their receipt of the fabled email that indicates success at making the shortlist made me feel slightly sick, as I knew I hadn’t received such an email. I pressed the deliver button in my email client a few times in the vain hope that it would magically appear, but it didn’t, and I knew it wouldn’t.  Some congratulatory messages fired out and some consolatory ones received back, with some wise words in particular from Greg Whitton and Neil Mansfield, both of whose work I’d advise you to check out if you aren’t already familiar, before I retired from twitter for the evening and sat, with a whisky and my own thoughts as the Tour de France passed by in a blur on the tv.

Now this blog could very easily be a wallowing in self doubt, with much gnashing and wailing of teeth, but it isn’t going to be, is it going to be slightly cathartic? hell yes, that’s the whole point isn’t it?. So yes, I ran through the whole gamut of questioning last night, are my images actually a bit crap? Am I kidding myself with this whole landscape photography lark?  Should I take up painting, knitting or airfix model building instead? And the answer to all of those is a resounding no, except maybe for the taking up painting thing…I absolutely, definitely need to do that.  And there are some very good reasons for not moping but in fact to be hugely thankful to this photography game, for the last 18 months in particular.

So indulge me for a moment, hold my hand, cue the wibbly wobbly screen and whooshing sound effects as I take you back 18 months or so to the deck of a Calmac ferry crossing from Uig to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.

I was on my way to a photography workshop, my very first one, with feelings of huge trepidation.  Up until that point I had always been someone who walked in the landscape and just taken photos as I strolled around the fells of the Lake District, occasionally getting an image I liked, but with serendipity playing a huge part and an impatient family waiting half a mile up the footpath for me to catch them up somewhat tempering the photographic isolation we all cherish. Anyway, here I was, on my way to Harris to meet up with a bunch of fellow landscape photographers on an Aspect 2i workshop, run by Paul Gallagher and Michael Pilkington. I stood on the deck of the ferry, full of self doubt and riddled with imposter syndrome (a running theme), imagining a workshop full of landscape masters looking at me like I’d just rocked up with a disposable film camera to a  paparazzi scrum. In fact it was a fabulous week spent in the company of some great people all keen to learn from Paul and Michael, and experience all that the Hebrides has to offer.  That trip was the first affirmation that I was OK at this, and heralded the beginning of photography moving from an occasional hobby to a fully blown obsession. Thank you to Paul, Michael and those people I can now call friends who were on that workshop.

After that workshop I allowed myself a couple of grandiose aspirations, I wanted to get an image into my favourite magazine Outdoor Photography, I wanted an exhibition (cliche I know) and I wanted that little spot in the LPOTY book.  So how did I do? Well I submitted some images to OP and Steve graciously published them (I still have at least 3 copies of that edition it means that much), I haven’t got close to an exhibition and haven’t tried yet, and well, we all know about the LPOTY fail again.  But what exactly have I achieved in the last 18 months? I’ve been published in my favourite magazine, I made the shortlist for the inaugural SLPOTY competition, not the dead tree version but the ebook (close but no cigar), I have prints of my work hanging in other peoples living rooms for the first time and an article in the forthcoming September’s issue of Outdoor Photography.  I’ve been to Scotland twice, the Arctic Circle and the Lofoten Islands, I’ve seen the northern lights and ice on a beach.  I’ve stood waist deep in the waters of Lofoten, Harris, Wester Ross, Pembrokeshire, Glamorgan, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, and waist deep in the barley and wheat fields of the Cotswolds, not to mention time spent in my own patch of Monmouthshire and nearby Brecon Beacons. Hell I’ve been surrounded by more beautiful landscapes in 18 months than many people see in their lifetime, and all of the above alone is reason enough to stick with it keep making images.

But its more than that, it’s the people I’ve met and engaged with, from the landscape idols of Michael Kenna, David Ward & Joe Cornish to everyone at the OnLandscape conference last year.  I’ve made some great friends on Facebook and Twitter, both virtual and in person, and I’m hoping to convert even more of those virtual friendships to real ones at the Masters of Vision Exhibition this evening. Most importantly I wouldn’t have had the fortune to be talking to those of you who have taken a few minutes out of your day to read the ramblings of a slightly rotund welshman who is obsessed with capturing moments of beauty in the landscape, and to each and every one of you I say thank you.

Yes I will take stock, but that will lead to better work, more focus, more honesty and more integrity in the images I make, but I will keep making them, and I will keep making them for me because I need to.  I’ve never shot an image with a competition in mind and I don’t think I ever will as that’s not why I stand in cold water or howling winds, I do it because I love the landscape and love being in it.  So if you’re a fellow LPOTY failer, chin up and crack on, buy the book and admire the images but remember why you too make images and hold that lightly and value it above all else.

So thank you to the landscape photography fraternity, thank you to everyone I’ve met along the way and to those of you who listen to my occasional ramblings and take the time to look at my work.  I’m at the beginning of a journey that will last for the rest of my life, and I’ve already seen Hans Strand playing the Swedish national anthem on a beer flute, I can’t wait to see where this goes from here!

Thanks for sticking with me.

16 Comments

  1. David  —  July 24, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Great post Karl – I wish I had your philosophical attitude 🙂 I’ve tried for 8 years in a row, probably entered over 100 images in total now and still never made the shortlist once – so you can imagine how I feel today.

    Reply
    • admin  —  July 24, 2015 at 11:33 am

      Cheers David, I absolutely share your pain. Neil Mansfield was performing his Yoda role on twitter last night with kind words, and made me stop and ask myself what I would say to someone else in the same boat. It’s not always easy to follow your own advice but in this instance it’s helped me. Stick with it and don’t sell your gear!! 😉

      Reply
      • David  —  July 24, 2015 at 1:49 pm

        Thanks Karl, been receiving lots of ‘counselling’ on twitter this morning too. Also enjoyed blasting out ‘Let it go’ from Frozen when it came on the car radio on the way to work 🙂

        Reply
        • admin  —  July 25, 2015 at 9:24 pm

          Cheers David, there was much ‘counselling’ going on at the bar at the Masters Of Vision Exhibition last night, genuinely flabbergasted at what hasn’t got through from some of the togs I respect and admire hugely. I draw the line at singing along to ‘that song’ though.

          Reply
  2. Duncan Fawkes  —  July 24, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Commiserations Karl. Rejection always hurts, no matter how robustly you brace yourself against it. As you know it’s just the opinion of a few people who have to make a very quick decision – very quick based on how quickly the shortlist was announced! – and really means little beyond.

    Everything else you say in this post is what matters. You’re clearly in this for the right reasons, re-focus on those. You’ve accomplished a lot in a short time, be proud of that but most importantly get back out there and forget all about it! 🙂

    All the best,
    Dunc

    Reply
    • admin  —  July 24, 2015 at 11:38 am

      Thanks Dunc, I read your blog when you posted it and it was in the back of my mind even before the results came out. 2 seconds per image on screen and you’re done at the end of the day. Time for some critical analysis and to get straight back out there tomorrow. Thanks for the kind words, and keep bringing that british style to those Oz landscapes for us 🙂

      Reply
  3. Paul Gallagher  —  July 24, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Competitions do this to people and that is part of the process and the experience. Two things you should always remember are that your images were probably good enough in the first place and secondly, it does not mean that the judges made the right selections, or rejections for that matter. I have never in all my 32 years made images to satisfy anyone other than myself. Its good that people like images that you make, but your ‘visual signature’, the aspect of your work that tells people it is your work without a written signature, can only come from being driven by what you ‘see’ and what you are inspired to photograph. Photographers almost frowned at me shooting with LF B&W in the 80’s and 90’s as it was far from vogue and actually regarded as ‘old hat’. Get your camera in your bag and head out. Stand in sea or on the edge of a loch, and tell the world what you see, let us see through your eyes because people covert individuality and spirit but seldom mediocrity.

    Reply
    • admin  —  July 25, 2015 at 9:59 pm

      Paul, you’ve only got yourself (and Michael) to blame for me feeling like this 😉 and I’ll always be grateful for it perversely. You’ve always pressed home how important it is to make images that are true to yourself and not anyone else, and it’s an attitude and mantra that is writ large through my own workflow as a result. Thank You. I know now that the LPOTY thing, or any other competition for that matter, was just a target I set for myself that in hindsight I could never actually control or influence as it’s ultimately someone elses 3 second decision, and as such it can and should never be something to strive for, it can only ever be incidental not something to aim for. Instead I am focussing on those things I can influence and control, and that is my own work and and trying to make it stronger, clearer and more consistent, but most importantly satisfying….for me.

      Reply
  4. jon  —  July 24, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    Lovely piece Karl.I call myself a pro and I don’t have two pennies to rub together but as you mentioned,we get to see wonderful things,you can’t put a price on that.Keep having wonderful experiences,be patient and your time will come.
    Jon

    Reply
    • admin  —  July 25, 2015 at 9:22 pm

      Cheers Jon, you are a pro mate, not just calling yourself one…you graft out a living doing what you love, and I have so much respect for you for doing so. Thanks for the words, and it was a pleasure to catch up with you last night. I’ll come visit the gallery soon I promise. Take it easy.

      Reply
  5. alan  —  July 25, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Great post Karl and I’m glad to read that you are reflecting on things with some sense of perspective. I took the liberty of flicking through your gallery before adding this comment, thinking maybe the guys work isn’t just there yet, after all if he has only been doing this 18 months (if I read that right) then that’s relatively short period to learn a craft and hope for recognition at the acclaimed premier landscape competition. I like your images and some of them really stand out and show a maturity that exceeds your 18 months so you should feel proud of how far you have come in 18 months and use that to motivate you to consider how satisfied with your work you could be in another 18 months.

    If it’s any consolation, most of us go through periods of doubting our work, I for one recall getting a whole series of poppy field images published by the Daily Mail for Remembrance Day, at the time I was naturally jubilant at this exposure and meagre success – now 5 years or so on I look back at those images and actually cringe at them as I now see only the things that are wrong or should I say “imperfect” in them. However, I know that this doesn’t matter as those images did reflect my artistry at that time and also are a useful reminder of how far I have come in image making since – the same doubts and reflective cringing still occurs on a regular basis but I actually see this as a positive thing which means I am always raising the bar on the standard of work I want to produce.

    Recognition at LPOTY or any other major comp’ is just that recognition only – it’s not the holy grail and I, as I am sure you, do not get out of bed when others are just going to bed, drive hundreds of miles, stand in cold, wet and unsavoury conditions, and often come home, like in my childhood days of fishing, with a blank.

    We do this because we love being in the outdoors, experiencing nature first-hand, challenging ourselves to see and feel something more than the obvious and trying to make an image that reflects all these senses – yep, it’s tough at times but so rewarding – none of it is done in pursuit of recognition or the thought of a possible LPOTY candidate – we simply put forward what we feel is our best work of the year and accept that against everyone else’s it may not make the cut, in a 3 second viewing it may not make the cut, in the eyes of a few judges it may not make the cut but in our eyes, opinion and emotionally connected bias we feel it’s our best to date.

    Celebrate that you have travelled this far already and continue to enjoy what you do because you love doing it and as you say it has opened your world up to new places and friends and experiences. Keep going mate.

    Reply
    • admin  —  July 25, 2015 at 9:43 pm

      Thanks Alan, I think the 18 months thing is a little bit of a red herring, I cut my teeth 20 odd years ago on an old Praktika and 35mm film, and have been producing images since then in fits and starts, but only 18 months or so have I been dedicating the time to the craft it needs and deserves, and that investment has paid itself back in spades already and opened me up to the opportunities and experiences and friendships I eluded to in my blog.

      I can resonate with your point about looking back at your images from a while back and not feeling happy with them, a few stand the test of time but I find a lot don’t, although more and more are holding their own these days which is a positive thing I guess. Although I’ll be honest with you, I can’t quite resonate with the early mornings, lol, definitely a night owl not an earlybird I’m afraid.

      Appreciate you taking the time out of your day to leave me some kind words, may your sunrises be fruitful.

      Reply
  6. Sandy Weir  —  July 25, 2015 at 9:00 am

    You have nothing at all to worry about Karl; by what I saw of your Lewis & Harris images, you had some fantastic work.

    I’m on the cusp of retrial from pro-photography (in September) and hope to have more time to indulge my long standing interest in landscape photography. I’m presently in the midst of setting up a new portfolio / blog but first having to learn a lot about WordPress!

    Wishing you well.
    Sandy

    Reply
    • admin  —  July 25, 2015 at 9:28 pm

      Thanks Sandy, I have to admit to being somewhat jealous of your forthcoming retirement, well earned as it is. I’ll keep an eye out for the blog and all the new images you’ll be producing over the coming months. I hope all is well your end?

      Reply
  7. Andy Hough  —  July 25, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    Good read Karl, in the same boat as you, found out from another tog that the mails had gone out. I did the same as you – as did he. Still, I know that non togs love my work as do some togs I truly admire – so I know I’m doing something right. Plus, more than anything I do this for the love of creating, if someone says wow – that is usually enough for me 🙂 I’m not thinking this will be great in a comp when I’m in a wood at dawn, or freezing my butt off up a hill, I do it because I enjoy it and there is always something new. There’s always next year lol 🙂

    Reply
    • admin  —  July 25, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks Andy, can’t quite believe how many people seem to have read my blog given it all stemmed from a quick decision in the shower to get it down in words and out of my head so I could be done with it. Funny old world! As for next year…not sure I’ll be putting myself up for the torment again…lol, but I wish you luck if you do! Let’s keep doing it because it makes us smile more than it makes us frown.

      Reply

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