Most folk who live in Scotland find the weather during November harsh. It's often wet, windy and cold.
But visiting the isle of Harris when there are many winter storms coming through, has given me the chance to work with atmosphere more than anywhere else I know of.
Although the island offers little in the way of craggy coast-line or sharply defined mountains, I find this lack of attributes ideal, because it allows me to focus on the basic elements of colour and tone.
Harris is all about atmospheric changes.
Often overwhelmed by the space around me, I find I seem to tune in to the elements, so much so, that I can spend days here absorbed in it all. And days I must spend, because Harris does not offer up its secrets in one day.
The variances of light on the landscape change and evolve slowly over days if not weeks and I often feel Harris is all about the study of time.
Above all, the changes in the landscape seem to reflect the changes that I notice within me as a photographer. And I feel there has been a change. Perhaps I'm trying less to tell the landscape what I want, and instead, I'm more at ease with letting it tell me what it wants.
Sometimes I feel as though I really know a place, only to find that I've really just scratched the surface.
The Altiplano of northern Chile and Bolivia had many surprises in store for me in 2013. I had not anticipated snow at such a high elevation during the season that I ventured here.
I'm only acutely aware now, that the Altiplano figures largely in my future as a place for me to work on my compositions, and my understanding of light, shade and tone. It offers challenges that I have not experienced elsewhere on my travels to date.
The Unveiling of a Portfolio
I often leave large spells between a shoot, and the editing of it. I find the distance allows me to gain some objectivity.
While I was editing this body of work, I realised that leaving things too long, can bring on a feeling of creative blockage. It was such a joy to work on these images. Each one has its own personality, and now that they're all here, I feel as if I've always known them. Like they were always here, but just out of sight, waiting to come out and show me who they are.
I also enjoyed watching the entire portfolio take shape. As each image was completed, I felt as if the mood and tone and story of the portfolio shifted and changed.
Winter at Perito Moreno Glacier
I love inclement weather. Low visibility reduces the landscape down to the simple building blocks of form and tone.
The Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina was a perfect study of form and tone during my winter visit.
The cloud had descended, and the backdrop of mountains and sky had become veiled, lost to the eye. Reduced visibility seems to add a new dimension to the work. I think this is because our minds tend to create something out of nothing, to visually fill in the gaps.
Just as some photographers love to shoot in black and white, I love to shoot in twilight.
I see no difference in terms of approach. My images are monochromatic studies in blue, rather than black and white.
For me, colour ads an extra dimension, and if used delicately, it can aid rather than inhibit the simplified message that monochromatic images convey.
Tones & Simple Shapes
I didn't know quite what to expect returning back to Bolivia. Would I create the same kind of work as I did in 2009, or would I have a new way of looking at the same landscape?
I'm pleased to say that I didn't have an answer to this until I was back home, working on the new images from this trip.
I now see, that my first trip to Bolivia in 2009 opened up the door towards simple compositions and this recent trip allowed me to see how far I've come down that road.
It's been a beautiful journey so far and the altiplano is a great place to simplify, and think about tones and shapes only.
Vibrancy & Hues
On the altiplano, and particularly so on the Salar de Uyuni salt flats, one is forced to think about tone and colour only, because that's all there is to work with.
It really does make for a great lesson in 'less is more'.
But I feel that it's not just about improving craft.
The clarity of the light really does make for a very intimate experience. I do hope to continue to come here, as there is so much more that I have yet to explore.
Distillation of a Theme
I think that returning again and again to a place, means we start to mine deeper and deeper.
What we always knew was there, but for some reason, we never chose to photograph the first time round, still beckons upon repeated visits.
We should listen to what calls out to us, and go with it.
I feel that this portfolio represents those subjects that I always knew were there, but for some reason, I hadn't felt ready to photograph.
Feels like Home
Many of the landscapes that I visit as part of my yearly workshop schedule, has come about through a meeting with a local. In the case of Lofoten, my trips all began here, because of my friend Vlad who introduced me to a few of the locals who live in the town of Reine.
I always love coming back to Lofoten each year, because the place has grown for me. What was once a foreign landscape has become a place I think of as home. I think this is one of the rare treats about being a photographic workshop leader.
The world is a homely, small place.
With the utmost of manners, and what felt like genuine consideration for their guest, I found the Geisha to be completely spellbinding.
Everything about them leaned dramatically towards a time-honoured, refined image of femininity; the hair, the lightness of skin, the lipstick and the softness of manner.
All were an inescapable, highly impressionable window on a past.
A past, where feminine delicacy had been unashamedly celebrated.
Many of the Geisha I met were not mature woman. Maiko, as they are known, are young girls, whom from the age of 15 serve an apprenticeship until their early 20’s. From then on, they are known as Geiko.
As beautiful as they were, at a distance, I could have easily assumed them to be much older than their years. It was only upon being introduced to one, that I realised she must be around 16 years old.
Centuries of tradition, elaborate yet elegant costume and an air of old-fashioned politeness had made a young girl seem much older than she was. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much reverence for such a young stranger before.
I got the impression that Japan leads one to feel a great respect for everything, because respect is evident in many things the Japanese do. I felt that they are a mindful people at heart.
Monochrome in Colour
I first made images of the black sand beaches of Iceland in 2011. Since then, I've noticed that I seem to be using the colour palette of a location to provide a 'theme' for the work at hand.
I think this set of images are a continuation (or development) from my first set of images made here in 2011. They are more mono-chromatic in nature; a little bit more fine-tuned perhaps.
I seem to have become obsessed with colour as a theme to unify a body of work. And if the subject is mono-chromatic in nature, it has to be listened to, and respected in the final work. Even if I am shooting in colour.
I'm always aware of changes in my own work
I think that the stage I'm at with my work these days is of fine-tuning a style that has been in progress for 12 years or so. There is a shift, but it's subtle.
I think as photographers, or as creative people in general, we should observe, and notice these subtle shifts in our own work. It is through this process of self-awareness, that we are given clues as to where it is that we are going.
I’ve been going to Iceland for quite some time now. When I first visited the country in 2004, I had a clear idea of the places I wanted to photograph because there are many stunningly beautiful iconic places to go photograph. I think most ‘first trips’ are like this. I go and I photograph the obvious. But it’s been more than ten years now, and I feel that I’ve been drifting away from these iconic places to photograph anonymous locations, or locations that are lesser known. I should add that there is no conscious decision to do this - but it’s just been an organic evolution of sorts and each visit finds me diving a little bit deeper below the surface.
So it was of great satisfaction to me to find that my south-coast tour this winter did not yield the same expectations or studies of places that I often gravitate towards. Instead, the environmental conditions were such that most of the places I would pass by, held great interest to me.
For example, due to the high winds in Iceland, I found that many of the sand deserts presented an interesting interplay between the black sand and snow. There were also surprises in the north east of the country where the light colour of the sulfur rock was interwoven in zigzag textures with snow and ice.
I feel that Iceland is somewhere that will remain in my photographic-psyche for a long time to come and I’m very happy knowing this :-)