Tag: Experience

16 Aug

Coping with sunsets, a golden-hour virgin’s guide

admin / Blog / / 5 Comments

Allow me to start this short missive by giving a bit of background for those who don’t know me very well.  I don’t do sunsets, and I really, really don’t do sunrises.  Admittedly if you rummage through the galleries here on my website a couple have managed to slip through the net, but they are a rarity, and to be perfectly honest those images are pretty much there as a record of the suffering I had to endure in order to get them in the first place…ahem.

Apologies in advance, I know I’m committing landscape photography heresy here, and it’s not done for dramatic photo-snobbery effect, or to somehow grab wildly at making my own drab images more ‘worthy’, but as a rule I just don’t like the golden hour.  I’m much more often to be seen walking off a beach or trudging back down a hill as the sky starts to go nuclear, usually accompanied by disbelieving looks from other photographers as they coo and hammer away at their shutter buttons from behind their sunglasses…I jest of course…a bit…I do sometimes hang around for the blue hour.

There are any number of reasons I guess for my personal dislike of golden hour, or more precisely Lucozade half hour, chief amongst them the fact that I generally think in black and white first, instinctively looking for structure, line, form and space and as a result my favourite colour images are more often than not those where the subject of the image is colour and colour itself provides one of the key compositional elements in the image.  Sometimes for me the glorious, soft, unctuous light of the golden hour is too easily used to mask an otherwise average or lazy composition, relying all too often on the viewer being seduced and made to ‘oooh’ at the sheer gorgeousness and drama of that brief moment of exquisite light. I know I’m hugely in the minority here…so don’t hate me too much…but a Peter Lik fan I ain’t.

Anyway on the weekend I found myself atop a greywacke pavement in Snowdonia helping a fellow tog recce a few locations as the sun started to drop away to the horizon over the Lleyn Peninsula and the sky began to colour up. I’d spent the previous hour or so with the lens pointed firmly at my feet searching out abstract patterns in the rock surface, but as the colour temperature began to increase, the familiar war cry of my photographic compatriot rang out…by text, as he was out of earshot…’Boom!’.

For some reason this sent me into a mild panic, and a combination of golden hour fever and groupthink set in, causing me to hastily frame up a vista with a sun-drenched erratic leading the eye…badly…to the distant peaks of Snowdon.  I fired off a couple of frames as I passed the camera on each of the 25m laps of the pavement I made whilst attempting to outrun the ruddy midge cloud that was intent on turning my calves into something closely resembling corned beef.

Then as Mr Lik painted the sky and turned the saturation up to 11 to make my retinas weep, I looked down….and there beneath my feet the bedraggled stems of heather were suddenly burning under the low orange sidelight and contrasting with the blue shadows of the sandstone…hmmm…interesting.  I grabbed the camera, pointed it down and for the next 10 minutes ran around exploiting the Lucozade effect and the slightly disorientating perspective you can get where the subject’s relief can appear reversed due to the strong sidelighting.  A few of those images are included below…don your sunglasses first though…

So I’ve only gone and enjoyed a photographic sunset haven’t I?  Does this mean I’ll shoot another? Probably…Does it mean I’ll walk off a beach or a mountain as it all goes nuclear above me? Maybe not, I might be tempted to hang around and point the camera at my feet again and exploit it that way. But as for sunrise…..nah….you can just sod off…you’re having a laugh there…

22 May

How many chimps does it take to fill a bookcase?

admin / Blog / / 1 Comment

Sitting on the arm of the sofa, doors to the bookcase flung wide open, scanning the bound and jacketed tomes that fill the shelves, trying to decide which book I was in the mood for spending some long overdue time with, I became aware that i was subconsciously skipping entire sections of my collection in my quest for something to accompany my freshly made steaming hot mug of tea, but why?

When I talk about my bookshelves here, I’m referring solely to the collection of photography related books I’ve accumulated over the years that reside in this particular…now stuffed to the gunnels…bookcase.  I have other sorts of books obviously; autobiographies, fiction, textbooks, veggie cookbooks (I know…shock!), Haynes manuals, etc that don’t live here, and neither does my ever increasing map collection, that’s right ‘increasing’…listen up you millenials…google maps doesn’t count, you simply can’t lose yourself for several hours in google maps imagining views, crags, woodland and underestimating gradients…but I digress, that’s another middle aged ranty blog post [places pipe down, repositions slippers by the Aga, tuts and takes off a shoddy pair of rose tinted spectacles].  Anyway, back to the bookcase…The books on these shelves span some 20 years or so of accumulating, and are largely organised by author/photographer’s name. They’re not arranged alphabetically, or using the dewey decimal system, but in loosely associated clumps I’d guess.  David Ward lives next to Joe Cornish, Dav Thomas lives next to David Baker, Josef Koudelka lives next to Henri Cartier-Bresson and Greg Whitton has his own special mahogany plinth with a hand knitted green, beanie-hat styled protective dust cover.

So as I carefully dusted down the copy of Mountainscape sat atop the almighty beanie plinth, I realised I was sitting there looking at my own photographic journey, or was I?  Did the books on those shelves represent influences over those years, subject matter interests, dead ends, fleeting fads and fancies? Or was it just a collection of random books full of imagery.  I began to mentally reorder the shelves in terms of the approximate order they were purchased, looking for a pattern, and surprisingly…well to me anyway…I could clearly recall seeing some of those books for the first time and tie them in to my own photography at that point.

I quickly drew up a timeline in my notebook and started annotating with the photographers names from my shelves, Waite…Prior…Cornish…Ward…Kenna…Southam…Kenny…Sugimoto and all points in between.  As I looked at that roughly drafted timeline I held a copy of Iain Sarjeant’s ‘The Pool’ in my hands, one of the last books I’d purchased to complete my ‘Triplekite Collection’ even though it was one of the earliest titles released. I’ll be honest it hadn’t appealed to me for a long time, although I now consider it to be a little jewel upon my shelves, and I don’t think I could or would have appreciated when it was first published, I simply wasn’t ready photographically, I was on a different part of the journey, of my journey.

I started to group large parts of that timeline around the phases of my own photographic experience and a picture slowly started to emerge. I’ll spare you the inevitable powerpoint slide that followed, I do hate myself sometimes, but you just can’t take the corporate out of the boy I’m afraid…be grateful I’ve spared you all the post-its and brown paper. I also considered using Adobe Slate for this blog, to allow you to scroll with me through the timeline and annotations…but when I realised I was actually taking that seriously for a split second I jabbed at my own four day old hernia repair to induce a moment of clarity…thankfully that worked and you’ve been spared.*

And so it all began, landscape-wise, with Charlie Waite and ‘The Making of Landscape Photographs’. This was the mid 90s, and the point I decided I wanted to dig my camera out of it’s box and take it for a walk for the first time since being a geology student a few years earlier.

This moment signalled the beginning of the Big Vista & Honeypot Years, and lasted for quite a long time while I continued to ramble through the Lake District a few times a year and take ‘pictures’ along the way. Colin Prior quickly joined the fray quite soon after Charlie and eventually so did Ansel Adams and Joe Cornish.  Prior to this, the sum of my photography library amounted to a few general ‘How to take better pictures’ type books and some nameless bargain basement volumes of quintessentially pretty scenery bought from various garden centres around the Lakes.  This period will now forever be defined as BC, or Before Charlie.  Much like the Pre-Cambrian geological period it is a dark, dim and sketchy time, lacking in detail and visible progress but it contained the seeds for what lay beyond it.

The end of the Big Vista Years and with it my interest in the honeypots of the Lakes was heralded by a personal frustration with people looking at my photos and responding immediately with a location name, ‘Ooh that’s Skiddaw!’ or ‘Blea Tarn…nice!’ and the next chapter was signposted by some bloke called Ward whose images kept popping up in books I’d bought primarily because they featured the work of Joe Cornish.

From here on in, during The Simplicity & Intimacy years , the accumulation of bookery stepped up a notch, alongside my own desire to ‘grow’ as a photographer…and to do all of this ‘properly’. Sigh, the things you’d slap yourself for actually saying out loud in hindsight. In fact I hereby apologise to anyone who ever had to endure any form of photographic snobbery and pomposity from me…ever…I didn’t know I was a git at the time I swear! And if I do it again…please point it out!

Various strands then began to crystallise, an obsession with all things black and white stemming from Ansel Adams originally, but carried forward initially by Michael Kenna, then Paul Gallagher, Cartier-Bresson, Atget, Paul Strand, John Sexton and Bill Brandt.

An already burgeoning obsession with trees and woodland wasn’t helped with Triplekite’s first offering from Dav Thomas, and was fed more recently by John Irvine and David Baker through the delightful Landscape Editions books from Kozu Books. Here I have to highlight the fact that my woodland collection has two unforgivable and glaring omissions…it has no book in it by either Colin Bell or Russ Barnes…shame on you both for not publishing one, pull your fingers out please gents, there are gaps in my shelves waiting!

A brief period of introspection herein and after referred to as The Angst, as eluded to in other blogs resulted in searching for the constraints and freedom of all things project and/or series.  This has generally allowed me to indulge several photographic obsessions at once through the Kozu Books for example, through the narrative and storytelling of Jem Southam, via Matt Botwood and his ‘Travels in a Strange Land: Dark Spaces’ work, and as mentioned earlier Iain Sergeant’s ‘The Pool’. As a point of order I also feel obliged to call Matt Botwood out for his shocking and continued efforts to accrue more and more images for his Ephemeral Pools series when he should in fact actually be putting them in a book for me to enjoy, some people are so selfish I tell you.

However, in amongst the some would say, less traditional, landscape photography books added to my collection over the last few years, one book in particular can not be allowed to go unmentioned. ‘The Landscape’ by Paul Wakefield landed like an 800lb bomb on my lap, singlehandedly demonstrating how contemporary landscape images have been taken for the last 30 years…by him…and it continues to blow me away every time I open its massive pages on my kitchen table. If you don’t own it yet…buy it…and treasure it.

So, all being told, does that mean these particular photographers and their bodies of work set the tone for images I produced in each of those phases? Partly, yes, but not necessarily or entirely. They clearly resonated with me at the time I purchased them because I loved the work and wanted to be able to produce photos just like it, particularly in the earlier years, but in some cases they resonated because they were so incredibly different to what I was shooting at a time when I was internally dissatisfied with the images I was producing (more so than usual anyway) and they opened a new door for me creatively.

Lately I simply enjoy looking at books across all genres and points in the last century from Josef Koudelka, Saul Leiter, Joel Meyerowitz and Hiroshi Sugimoto to name but a few, letting them feed my subconscious, and I’ll be honest, giving myself a long overdue education in the roots of this craft we all love…in this sense I am admittedly, horribly, embarrassingly and pitifully uneducated.

So what’s the point of this evening’s ramblings then, I guess I’d better try to pull something out of the ether for those of you who have stuck with me this far…bless…have you nothing better to do with your busy lives than read my self-indulgent drivel?

Well I guess firstly I just wanted to get the point over that this is all ultimately a journey, and whilst my own journey has had several phases, BC, The Big Vista & Honeypot Years, The Simplicity & Intimacy, and The Angst, I’m now at a place I’m calling The Beginning (I promise to birch myself thoroughly for overuse of arty bollocks).  The path I’ve followed has at times been narrow and one-dimensional, but more than ever it now feels like it is broad and varied and that there are in fact many paths to follow, with many possibilities to explore.  For various reasons I’ve stopped looking to shortcut the journey in search of getting somewhere quickly, I’m now enjoying the journey for what it is, just that, a journey, an opportunity to explore and learn, a chance to take a path less followed or to really get to know the one you’re already on a bit better than you do right now. I’m always learning, and I always want to learn…that’s the fun bit.

Lastly this is a plea to everyone to buy books now and again. In a time when we are surrounded by online imagery 24/7, the experience of looking at beautifully printed images in a book, with a cup of tea, or a fine single malt can not be surpassed.  You will slow down and look, properly, and learn, and be moved, or maybe none of the above….but you won’t have just flicked right after a nanosecond of attention for an image that someone has lovingly crafted and nurtured.  The staggering efforts that David Breen & Dav Thomas of Triplekite or Greg Stewart of Kozu Books, or those over at Another Place Press go to in order to bring us the work of photographers we want to see should not be underestimated.  They, and many others like them are supporting our community and can only do so if we keep buying their dead trees. So please, buy more books, from the self publishers, the small publishers and if needs be the big boys, but buy more books…..fill your own bookshelves, get your next fix of inspiration, chimp some more images…

*[OK…you’ve endured this far…here’s the powerpoint slide…]

Bookshelf

 

24 Jul

Disappointment, reflection and something more beautiful

Karl / Blog / / 16 Comments

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.