Returning home from Iceland, I found the first few days quite a challenge to adjust to. Not only is the landscape quite strange, but the atmosphere of the country and laid back attitude of it’s people certainly enhanced my travel experience.
Everywhere seemed to be littered with the most impressive waterfalls and many of the places had an alien quality to them. In particular, Jökulsárgljúfur National Park could have passed for Mars. Rocks litter the desert for as far as the eye can see. The experience was intensified by a desert like heat during the hottest summer they have had on record, along with incredible red skies courtesy of a midnight sun.
Iceland contains such a variety of landscapes consisting of glaciers, waterfalls, thermal springs, lava fields and black sand deserts. Just about any geological phenomenon can be found there in abundance.
With only one highway that circles the island, most of the 280,000 inhabitants live scattered around the coast or concentrated in Reykjavík.
The centre of the island is an inhospitable wilderness that is hard to penetrate for most of the year. Only for four months does the country thaw. This is the time when vegetation grows and tourists visit. For this reason, the vegetation is protected and it's respectful to camp in designated areas.
Highlights for me were many. In each area I visited, I spent several days concentrating on photography. I found it valuable to stay in one place for a good duration so as to get to know it, and experience it under different light conditions. This added to the experience of the places I visited.
Krafla is a place containing lava fields that are as recent as the 1980's, I witnessed it during the small hours of the morning and it was fantastic to be there under exceptional lighting conditions.
Landmannalaugar, situated in the central highlands was also a highlight. The land is very strange and I was able to view it from the top of Bláhnúkur during an approaching storm.
Detifoss and Selfoss waterfalls were also incredible to view during the small hours. A mist came in one morning and it was great to see Sellfoss appear slowly as the fog dissipated.
Watching Detifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall tumble over the edge of the gorge during the small hours, as though it were doing it just for my benefit was a spectacular experience; It is often at these moments that nature in it's wildest form feels very close.
I feel as though I have made friends with Iceland. I know I will be back.
Winter above the Arctic Circle
Coming to Lofoten in March was like taking a step back in time. Leaving Scotland on a warm spring day, I was greeted in Lofoten with snow blizzards and incredibly beautiful winter light.
The island is quiet at this time of year. Everywhere is shut and you wonder why, as it is perhaps a very captivating landscape to experience.
Many of the images were taken whilst having to deal with sleet and rain lashing the front element of my camera's lens. I had no idea using my film camera if I was successful with my endeavours whilst there. But I like it just that way. It makes photography so much more engaging.
A new direction
For years I've always felt I had to travel long distances to see much more exotic landscapes than the ones I encounter in my homeland of Scotland.
But Lofoten has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of shooting in mainland Europe and Scandinavia during the winter months.
I feel I've only just started down a new path with the Lofoten portfolio and I know I am going to return to expand on this over the next few years.
And to think it all started with an invitation from my friend Vlad. I had no idea just where this invitation was going to lead me, and my photography.
Isle of Skye 2004-12
Some parts of Scotland conjure up images and dreams more so than other parts, and in that respect, Skye is perhaps 'the no.1' location in Scotland to do that.
The Storr landscape is Lunar, Elgol is bewitched with its own mystical weather system - always providing a dramatic view across to the Cuilin mountains and then we have the Quiraing with provoking names such as 'the prison' and 'the table'.
I spent a week here in December 2010 in perhaps the coldest winter I've ever experienced and as you will see by some of the images - the snow did bring an interesting perspective to Skye's landscape.
Harris & Lewis 2010-11
Beaches & Standing Stones
I hardly know my own country.
It's an embarrasing admission for someone who has traveled so extensively.
So this portfolio contains images from Harris & Lewis in the outer Hebrides. The former has stunning beaches while the later has ancient stone circles.
I ventured here during the summer and then returned during November. Both times of year yielded surprising images.
Black & White, in Colour
There's something to be said about shooting a fairly mono-chromatic location on colour film.
Returning to south Iceland, I found lots of black beaches and glacial ice. I also found foreboding landscapes such as Reynisdrangar's sea stacks. And then of course, Skógarfoss waterfall, which never seems to be without tourists, demanded to be shot in the middle of the night around 1am. That kind of light brings a mood and also a reduced colour pallet to work with.
All this I felt, made my return trip to Iceland an exercise of shooting black and white subjects in colour.
Internalising a Scene
When I make images, I'm aware of feeling a connection to the landscape. If I'm in good spirits, then I believe that connection should work really well. But what if I'm not so well?
I came down with a chest infection the day I arrived in Iceland, and at the time, I felt it really hampered my creativity and enthusiasm. But looking back at these pictures now, I think the only thing it hampered was my willingness to carry out the full trip. Coming home early to rest, I had a chance to see these images sooner than I'd anticipated, and I'm really pleased with them. I guess, despite an awful cold, I was able to be objective and still make that connection.
An alien landscape full of light
I thought I'd experienced a wide range of landscapes until I saw and felt the Bolivian altiplano.
I could have been walking on Mars for all I knew.
Suffering from slight altitude sickness, I had a thumping headache and I was breathless, heart pumping as I took small steps around one of the strangest landscapes I've yet encountered.
But it was the dry cold temperature of the high altitude air that caught me unaware. One minute my hands were fine and the next they had frozen up into a state of unresponsiveness.
Unable to operate my camera, I had to retreat back to my 4WD for warmth.
Deception on a large scale
Standing on the Salar de Uyuni (largest salt plain in the world) at 6am, I watched the Moon set as the Sun began to touch and change the edges of the salt crust.
I felt I was in an arctic wilderness. Yet there was no ice to be seen, just the blinding brilliance of the salt plain.
This was just one of the deceptions of the Bolivian altiplano. A strange place where the ground is often brighter than the sky and where sunsets are often better than sunrises, it was all back to front.
Taj Mahal, 2009
Majestic despite being compromised
One of the world’s iconic structures is corroding. Its translucent marble facade is being destroyed by the daily pollution in Agra.
This is not fog you see in these images, it is smog, pollution spewed out by the surrounding factories. I could taste it in my mouth, and I suffered heart-burn as a result of breathing it in for a few hours.
But I still fell in love with the Taj Mahal and its gardens despite the circumstances.
It is without doubt one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
A welcome reprieve
After weeks of intense noise, intense smells, intense poverty, I was fatigued. Sensory overload had taken its toll on me. I wanted to find somewhere to retreat to and get some space away from the aggressive touting too.
India is not an easy country to explore. The mindset there is so strange, different, awkward, and the levels of beauracracy maddening.
But I was spellbound by the Taj Mahal and its gardens. It was a welcome reprieve from the madness of India.
It's a really beautiful setting, and no photograph that I have seen of the place prepares you for the majesty of it.
But I think part of its appeal for me was the tranquillity I experienced there. It was the only location in the course of a month’s travel where I had some space to think my own thoughts and not be pestered by strangers.
I wish I could say that the space to think, also gave me the space to breathe. But that simply wasn't to be. The daily pollution from the surrounding factories in Agra made sure of that.
Isle of Eigg 2007-10
The bay of Laig
Perhaps the most photogenic beach in Scotland. The bay of Laig contains many geological gems and features and I never tire of it.
I love coming to Eigg. The island is perhaps only 4 miles long, but the tight knit community and the sense of space I get on this place always make for a rewarding trip.
I come back twice a year now to conduct a photographic workshop on this Island because I'm so taken with it.
I've been neglecting my own back yard for the past five years or so with too many enticing countries with exotic landscapes to visit.
But it was through looking at Paul Wakefield’s images and also the recent Joe Cornish book about the Scottish coast that inspired me to start visiting those areas of my own country that I know little or nothing about.
Eigg is an incredible little Island, and one that I hope I'll return to. As usual, there is never enough time to do a place justice in photographic terms.
After the madness of India, I fully expected Nepal to be just as hectic.
But I was so pleased to find the Nepalese people so easy and relaxed.
I was fatigued and unwell though. So I don't really think I was working on full steam whilst there.
To the nepalese people - thank you so much for letting me photograph you from such close quarters. It was an enjoyable privilege.
I spent most of my time in Boudha, the Tibetan quarter or Kathmandu. I just loved Boudhanath stupa and the daily ritual that happens there.
People circumnavigating the massive, beautiful stupa - always everyone in constant motion. It was hard to photograph people not only because I felt I was intruding upon their religion, but also because everyone was extremely private anyway.
So many photos got away from me. It was frustrating, but that's why I try to adopt a laid back attitude to it all. I work hard, sometimes too hard. But I need to accept that some photos I win, and many I will lose. It's the only way to handle the constant challenge of street photography
Temples, Buddhists & warm People
I'm always taken aback by the generosity and warmth displayed by people from the poorer countries I've visited.
Originally I'd planned to photograph the Angkor Wat temple complex. It is the largest collection of temples to be found on the planet.
But I really took to the people.They were just fantastic.
Photographing people is an art. It is something I feel that is not easily within my grasp, and far removed from landscape photography.
In this portfolio, I have attempted to show you the side of Cambodia and its people that I saw through my lens.
A warm hearted people
The hustle and bustle on every Cambodian street corner lead me in the direction of street photography.
It was just too much of an opportunity not to miss.
On every journey, there was a photographic wonder begging to be shot. But it's a hard thing to do; to photograph people and do it well.
I'm a huge fan of Steve McCurry's work. He has a gift for capturing people that I would dearly love to posses. It is a very different skill to that of landscape photography.
No matter. With any art, you have to follow your heart and do what your instincts tell you to do. So I found myself photographing the people more than the temples. They were just so captivating.
A Technical Approach
I knew that I'd wanted to expand into the area of street photography, but it seemed that my Mamiya 7 camera wasn't really suitable for it.
The aperturesare quite slow on the lenses and the close focusing distances were unsatisfactory too.
So I decided to opt for a Voightlander Bessa R3a rangefinder camera.
I found it superb for people shots. It's unobtrusive size, no mirror slap or motor wind to divert the subject worked a treat. I do believe that simple is better and the Voightlander worked dividends in this area. It allowed me to maintain a strong relationship between subject and photographer.
Holy City of Lalibela
I came to Lalibela to experience the rock hewn church of Bete Giyorgis (Saint George) on Meskel day - an orthodox religious day commemorating the discovery of the true cross.
With expectations of witnessing events not too dissimilar to those of biblical times, I was not to be disappointed.
The Lalibela Cross was taken out and kissed by those who sought its healing powers.
For me though, It was just enough to be invited into the heart of the Meskel celebrations and from that vantage point, to make some very close quarter images of the people of Lalibela.
A centre of pilgrimage
For many orthodox Ethiopians, Lalibela is a religious mecca.
I myself do not hold to any faith, but I do seem to be drawn to places that are a pull for others.
But Lalibela has had a spell over me for the past two years.
After watching a short movie by Jake Warga titled 'The Perfect Photo', I knew I had to come here to make photographs of the people and the rock hewn churches.
I just wasn't aware until I returned home, that I too had been on a pilgrimage of sorts.
More than I bargained for
A tourist Pandora's box, Rajasthan is an amazing place which comes with more strings attached than you know of.
It was my first venture to India, so I really had no idea just how compelling the people are and how crazy Rajasthan can be. Or how forceful I'd have to be too - no does not mean no here - no means that I haven't understood that I'm meant to say 'yes'.
Colourful, delightful, crazy, maddening, overpowering, and perhaps the most memorable experience I've had to date, I left India wishing never to return, but now find myself looking back on it with very fond memories.
Religion & Corruption
I thought Cuba was full of contradictions, but I hadn't been to India.
There is a beauty to the Indian people. They are generous and extremely religious. Religion is at the core of what they do and it pervades all aspects of life.
I'm not religious in the traditional sense. I'm aware of 'something', but that's as far as it goes for me. I feel with my heart.
In some ways, India is extremely simplistic. Almost Naive. It's hard to explain until you've been there yourself.
But it's also extremely complex and very confusing.
With a little distance, I'm now able to laugh at the situations I found myself in. Not that I wanted to be in any of them, but I was swept along on a tidal wave of touts who clearly had nothing but their own interests at heart, and even went as far as telling me I wasn't conforming to their wishes.
I had got things wrong. I wasn't here to do what I wanted. I was here to pass money over, to surrender and give all my money to them. I'm a very rich westerner, or so they seemed to think. And by comparison, I often was.
Poverty was overwhelming, but there was a sereness in the more genuine people I came across. A tip for you: ignore the people who want to help you, they only want to help themselves. Look for the quiet indians, they are the ordinary, loving and generous people of the land.
Isle of Arran 2009
Pirates & Coves
Arran is not a 'dramatic' island like some other places I could mention, but it is a place that if you 'get' it, will reward you with some really surprising and interesting imagery.
Since I've had to start explaining how I make my images to workshop participants, I've found that I've learned a great deal about my own motivations and I understand better now, why I choose certain compositions.
I feel this has had a direct impact on me. While visiting Arran, I found that my compositions were getting more and more simplistic, minimal even. I can't explain.
The light while on the island was overcast, subdued, but as I've gone on with my photography, I've learned that this is great light to shoot in. Initially, I was just about to head back home, but I'm glad I didn't. The Island is surprising, subtle and I know I have to go back as I've only just begun to understand it.
A place worth returning to
I've been to Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares national parks several times now.
They are challenging environments in which to make good images. I must confess that the images in this little portfolio were created over several trips to the region.
As much as I'm in love with this area, I feel it is not indicative by the successes I've had here. It's taken a long time to create the images you see here.
I don't feel I'm finished with Patagonia. If anything, I've only just begun to understand the landscape and its challenging moods.
Film & Digital
One of the aspects that made it difficult for me to create a good body of work of Torres and Los Glaciares, was that I got lost in the digital revolution for a couple of year, which for me, personally was a blind alley.
I love film. I know it well, and how it responds to the light I choose to shoot.
I'm good friends with Patagonia. It is a home from home for me, so I know I will continue to create images here as my photographic skills evolve.
I can't wait.
Situated in the far north west of Scotland, Assynt is a true wilderness.
Out at Achnahaird beach, I was aware of the space around me. After being immersed in the mountainous landscapes of Inverpolly, it was a welcome reprieve to be on such an expansive beach with an endless sky.
Photographing here in winter has been a great experience for me. Sometimes too much time on my own, but I can't help feel that this is what's needed sometimes to create good images.
Just below Stac Pollaidh, I watched as the winter sun peaked above a mountain ridge and lit up some reeds in my immediate foreground.
My time in Assynt was like that. I was always on the verge, watching as the sun crept over the landscape turning shadows to light and light to shadows.
Assynt has some amazing scenery, and spending a week here doing some concentrated photography has been a real priviledge.
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.