The interior of Iceland during winter is a minimalist playground of black brush strokes against a white canvas. It is a place where sky and ground meet somewhere indivisible to the human eye.
If you are lucky, you meet the right landscape at the right time in your photographic journey. Each landscape teaches us something about form and tone, and I believe that many of the landscapes I've encountered have been responsible for shaping my style of image making.
The central highlands of Iceland feels like the final destination in my quest for simplicity in what I do. The outline of mountains hanging in space where there is no discernible difference between sky and ground, is such a fascinating subject to play with. In this portfolio I have deliberately taken advantage of the ambiguity inherent in this landscape. One does not know where the land finishes and where the sky begins, and this can lead to all sorts of optical illusions. Which is perhaps where I am most interested in my photography. I do not see it as a way to show you what was there, but more as a way to suggest, or look below the surface.
This is a magical space to work in and it's not easy to get here. Few do, because there are no roads, no signs, just one giant white canvas. You need the skills of a serious 4WD expert who knows how to read the terrain even though it is hidden under so much snow, and one who knows how to get vehicles unstuck when they inevitably do. Make no mistake: coming into the interior of Iceland in winter is an expedition, and requires technical skill and know how to get here.
Hokkaido (北海道) 2017
Return to Snow Country
I often feel that my first images of a new landscape may possess an elusive quality, one that is difficult to recapture on subsequent visits. There is an honesty present, simply because there are no preconceptions to hold on to. Everything is new.
Through repeated visits, this innocence may be replaced by experiences where the initial impressions can often become lost or burried.
Where last year Hokkaido was more about atmosphere and fog, this year I found myself confronted by a more literal representation.
Hokkaido is a landscape heavily touched by man, and I think by photographing these symmetrically placed trees, I've moved from a point of suggestion to something more unembellished, more truthful.
Fjallabak & Veiðivötn 2016
Fjallabak ('fiatlaback'), means 'behind the mountains'. It is a nature reserve situated in the central highlands of Iceland. It is also a place of remote, rugged and stark beauty.
In terms of colour and tone, I find Fjallabak to be the antithesis of the Bolivian altiplano.
Although both these landscapes can be vast, empty, minimal places, brothers of a sort, I approach Fjallabak very differently to that of its south american counterpart.
Where the altiplano asks for its bright vivid landscape to be embraced for what is there, Fjallabak is the opposite. With it's leanings towards the darker registers of tonality, it is a landscape occupied by suggestion and mystery. This I feel, is a quality that when found, should be embraced.
Shadows and dark tones in the landscape tap into our primeval instincts. These are spaces where our imagination is allowed to run free.
Valle de Dalì & the Siloli desert Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa
The high altitude thin air and the light that accompanies it, makes the Bolivian altiplano like no other place I know. The landscape is surreal, sometimes exactly like a Dalì painting with colour palettes that I don't find in other landscapes. The altiplano is a place I find I can work on simplifying my composition skills. It is a vast, empty and strangely beautiful place to be.
These are a few of the hardships one may encounter while here on the Altiplano of Bolivia. At an elevation of 3,600m at its lowest point and 4,800m at its highest, it is a hard environment to exist in. But it’s not just the lack of air. The temperature in the shade can often leave you wishing for warmth, while outside in the sun, the UV content is so harsh that sunglasses and a hat are necessary, if not mandatory. Your down jacket remains on, at all times, like a permanent fixture to your body.
Is something that does not exist here. After almost three weeks at high elevation, my skin began to crack on the back of my hands. Abrasions appeared whilst taking my winter gloves off for brief moments to operate my camera at -17ºC. My lips were constantly chapped.
There were many times when I thought my camera had seized up in the cold of the morning, only to find that it was my mind instead, that had stopped working. I lost many shots because of user error, exacerbated by hands that would not, and could not work the settings of my camera at low temperatures.
A landscape full of light
But what light! The reason why I am here!
Every hardship that I experienced at high altitude was worth it - for those gorgeous rays of light that I witnessed each morning and evening. Like clockwork, always on time and never disappointing me, the light possessed a vibrancy that affected my Fuji Velvia film in a way, that no other landscape has.
I'd like to express my deepest of thanks to the following guides and drivers who assisted me over the three week period I was at high altitude:
Abel Valdivia Lopez Armando Mamani Flores Demetrio Chavez Vergara
Alvaro Oropeza Carbera Marisol Maydana
Hokkaido (北海道) 2015
Snow Country - Homage to Kenna
I was drawn here by the stunningly beautiful mono work of Michael Kenna. His highly personalised view of this island as a perpetual winter landscape of lone trees and fence posts, like brush strokes on a white canvas, left an indelible mark on my mind many moons ago. To my mind, Hokkaido is Kenna and Kenna is Hokkaido.
There is always value in following in the footsteps of those who influence you. You can learn so much from them. But at some point your paths should diverge as you find your own voice. This I believe only happens after some time.
I think I always knew I was going to come to Hokkaido. Like a rite of passage, I had to experience it for myself. I just didn’t know I would do it so late in my own photographic development, nor with the kind help of Michael Kenna himself.
I believe it's healthy to recognise my influences. Not only does the acknowledgement allow me to embrace them for what they have given me, but I also get the chance to consciously thank them for showing me the way forward. I've learned so much from studying Kenna’s minimalist style, particularly his Hokkaido landscapes. These lessons have been invaluable, and for this, I will always be eternally grateful. Thank you Michael.
Puna de Atacama 2015
The Puna de Atacama or Atacama Plateau is an arid high plateau in the Andes of Argentina. The term "Puna" (Quechua) means "Moor" or "Cool Earth".
I first came to know about it though a chance encounter in my dentist's waiting room about a year ago. A travel magazine featuring pictures of what I initially thought was either the Chilean or Bolivian Atacama grabbed my attention. So familiar was the landscape that I assumed I must know of it. But I had never been here nor heard of it until this very moment.
One picture in particular drew me in. In a double-page spread, I found myself staring at the oddest looking conical shaped mountain I’d ever seen. Cono de Arita rises 122 meters above the Salar de Arizaro, the sixth largest salt flat on earth. It is also quite a distance from the nearest village of Tolar Grande which is 70km away.
Cono de Arita is an arresting object to experience. The way the tones of its dark pyramid shape contrast with the surrounding salt flat is quite startling. From the moment I saw that first picture of it, I knew I had to come and visit.
All the images in this portfolio were made during a six day tour. Just myself and my guide Pancho in his little 4WD pickup truck. He had water canisters in the back and a collection of Argentine music in the cab.
We spoke of many things during our drive across the plateau - he of Argentine culture, the geology of the landscape and most importantly, of his love for his beautiful little daughter. I spoke of what it's like to be Scottish and my love for the high plateau landscapes of the Andes.
At each moment of our many conversations, we remained the only static things in the landscape while outside, the terrain was always changing. Sometimes the transition would be instantaneous, other times we would spend many hours with the landscape not changing at all.
For instance, the journey out to the Cono de Arita for sunrise, a mere 70km away from the town we slept in, seemed to last forever. Despite seeing the volcano for well over an hour from the front seat of Pancho's 4WD, we seemed to get no closer to it. Such is the optical illusion of driving over a large salt flat: things far away appear to be deceptively close.
But what I discovered in the Puna was much more than the tantalising shape of cono de Arita. The Campo de Piedra Poméz (pumice stone field) for instance, is a massive area littered with pumice rock as big as boats and shaped just like them. Each rock faces the same way, with their sharply defined bows pointing towards some imaginary destination, ready to sail.
I ran out of time. Six days isn’t really nearly enough time to do the Puna justice. The distances were great, and due to frustration of not knowing the places well, I missed an awful lot. I often felt I turned up at places that would be great during sunrise, but I was there for sunset.
Like I always say to people who ask me how I find out about where to shoot:
"I often go at least twice, the first time to find out what it is I should photograph, the second time to go and photograph it. And if I really fall in love with the place, I keep going back to delve beneath the obvious".
I am already hatching plans to do just that.
My previous visits to Patagonia yielded monochromatic, often dark toned imagery. I felt at the time this really summed up my view of this landscape.
Seems I may have been too quick to judge as this year I found myself confronted with a softer, lighter view of the place.
But I think this new lighter imagery came about because of what I'd learned during my recent trip to Hokkaido. It was there that I finally felt I came to terms with lighter tones in my work.
Since visiting Hokkaido in December 2015, I feel my images have been moving towards the higher registers of luminosity. Rather than focussing on the dark tones and 'drama', I now feel I've found a few more octaves of light to play with. I feel I'm in new territory.
In this new work, there is a mixture of dark tones and sometimes light, airy tones. The skill, I believe, is to marry them so they feel part of the same set.
I'm so fortunate to return to Patagonia on a yearly basis. I feel as though this landscape often sets me new challenges, new homework, something to help my photography grow in some way.
I had no idea just how different and how wild the island of Senja would be compared to its more southerly neighbour, the Lofoten Islands. Norway's second largest island, Senja is an arctic wilderness.
Where the Lofoten islands are densely populated with many towns and houses dotted around the landscape, Senja has few. It leaves a lasting impression of an island that is bereft of people, a place where nature is in charge.
I found many motifs to work with here. In winter time, Senja's natural forests - of which there are many - offer up graphic black brush strokes on a white canvas of snow. It's a motif that I spent many happy hours working with. I particularly liked the days when the sky was just as blank and empty as the snow filled landscape was. At these times, sky and ground became inseparable; one and the same. A canvas with which to draw on.