Photography may move us, and it may take us to an imaginary place in our hearts and minds, but it can’t totally replace the feeling of actually, literally being there. And that’s where this selection of images falls down for me, because the central highlands of Iceland are like no other place I know.
It has a vastness to it that’s not possible to convey because scale has always been a troublesome aspect to convey once reduced down to a small photograph. The deserts of central Iceland are so large, that it’s hard to compute distances and know how far away distant objects on the horizon really are. Try conveying that in a 2D world of reduced tonal ranges and smaller-than-life imagery, and you’ve got a lot of obstacles to overcome.
The black volcanic deserts of the central highlands reach out in every direction overcoming your visual sense with near-total blackness. In some instances, perhaps near the volcano of Hekla, you come across a depth of black to the desert, that puts all the other blacks in Iceland into perspective. Here there is not one living thing to be found - just an engulfing lack of colour. So often I find these kinds of places startling because we wish to, no, maybe we need to see colour in a landscape and when there is none, we find ourselves searching for it.
I wasn’t quite sure how to approach the editing of this work. I procrastinated for a few days because the colours weren’t working. I realised I should have shot the landscape with a more muted colour film. It does not suit the heavy saturation of Fujifilm Velvia and my edits here are the result of slowly coming to terms that I needed to desaturate to produce what I had experienced and what I wanted to convey. Somehow that blackness and muted colour palette of the central highlands was important to maintain in the final work.
I was drawn to the abstract. I’m always on the lookout for simplified shapes and tones in the landscapes I encounter, and in the case of the central highlands - this proved to be extremely challenging. The landscape does not offer up simplified compositions easily. I often felt that if I were to take a view from afar, or from the air, things may become more much easier. In fact I often wished to have a more elevated view.
But I’m not done yet. This is only a handful of the images I made over two visits this year, first visiting the Fjallabak region this July and then again in mid-September.
Adding this collection of work to my website, I’ve been struck by its complexity. My compositions over the years have become more simplified, and I think I’ve been actively seeking out landscapes that can help provide me find and use elegant shapes and tones in my photography. Although these attributes can be found in the central highlands, and in the north east of the country, they come bundled with an added complexity that has to be worked at.
This landscape’s beauty is actually in its complexity.
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.
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.
Arctic Circle Home
I have so many places I call home now. Each time I come back to Lofoten in Norway, I spend time with my good friends who live here.
There is an extended curcle of expats living in the Lofoten Islands. It seems to be a place where strangers can come and be at home.
I believe that we all have a perfect place to be.
Some of us have always found home, while some of us have to go searching to find it.
I think Lofoten is home for many people who aren't from there originally. There is a magnetic pull that draws certain people here.
Rorbu and Snow
Lofoten to me, is an idyl. It holds a lot of dreams for me as a landscape, particularly so in winter.
With little red fishing huts (known as Rorbu), dotted around the landscape, and towering mountains jutting out of the sea, it is a place where I feel I can explore the possibility of making very romantic landscapes.
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.
Like an Arctic Tundra
Visiting the south coast of Iceland in January, was like seeing a familiar friend in a very new way.
We saw icelandic ponies, set like black silhouettes against the white backdrop of nothingness, and I often wished I could have made images of them. But it was not to be.
We had snow drifts and oftentimes the sky was inseparable from the ground that we were driving on.
The landscape still provided. I think in some ways, Iceland remains one of my best friends.
I took along a recently acquired hasselblad 500CM camera that I'd aquired from a dear friend. I love the square aspect ratio and I think it was great to come to Iceland, and see new compositions - suggested to me - by working with a new aspect ratio.
I think square has more of a graphic-art suggestion to it. I think this lends itself to influencing you to look at the landscape in a more abstract way. It's certainly something I wish to continue to explore. Sometimes, new (old) equipment can lead you in a new direction.