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.