The importance of wallpaper

Space in photographs

With music, the space between notes is just as important as the notes themselves. Similarly, with photographs the space between the subjects is important.

But I think 'space' in music is easier to define to a point. With music we often use the word 'space' rather than 'Silence'. Except with Music, space in the music isn't simply conveyed by having silence between notes. Space can be conveyed though tempo and intensity and density (or lack off) of the sound.

Similarly, with photographs space isn't necessarily 'empty areas' of the frame. Although this is can be true at times it is not the whole story. Space can also be conveyed through the use of a pause, something that makes you wait before moving on to another area of the frame. How many times have you felt yourself wait at one area of a picture before moving on?

In addition, 'space' can also be conveyed by areas of the picture that are texturally dense but have nothing of particular for the eye to settle upon. I call these spaces 'wallpaper'. Wallpaper can be texturally rich, may even contain patterns, but ultimately, the eye tends to float over it because there is no one singular point of focus.

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If I am to interpret the image above, I would say that the bottom two thirds of the picture is wallpaper. It is texturally rich but I don't think there is one particular area of the frame that I focus upon or more specifically, feel is a compositional anchor point.

I would also say that the sky and water are wallpaper. They are silent areas where there is nothing going on. They are just used to create a pause between the foreground and the background hills. 

Even with the background hills, the black tones and the curving shape of the hills take the eye for a few seconds before we are pulled towards the groove marks in the green moss. So even the hillside is a kind of space in the picture.

It seems a picture can contain many things and yet still have a lot of space. For me, the main object of focus in the picture is the vertical grooves in the green moss on the hill. Everything else is there to just give context and space and although some of this space is texturally rich, it is ultimately wallpaper. Our eye spends just a moment in it, and is still free to move towards the main point of focus of the picture.

Reciprocity Chart for Fuji Velvia 50 RVP

It's been a while since I wrote about this, and I've had a few people contact me about it. It seems that my original posting had lost some of the charts for reciprocity with Fuji Velvia, so I'm re-posting it here.

One of my most favourite things to do with landscapes is to collapse many moments in time into one frame. In other words, do long exposures. It can be extremely useful at removing textural detail that I don't need in the photo, as in the example below:

Removing textural detail by use of Long exposure Fjallabak, Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2017

Removing textural detail by use of Long exposure
Fjallabak, Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

By removing any small currents in the water, I've removed any possibility of the eye being distracted and therefore drawn to it. Similarly the long exposure has reduced the chance of the sky having anything of distraction in it either. So my eye is allowed to go straight to the headland. 

Using long exposures in this way can remove distractions and allow (in this case) areas of the picture to become 'wallpaper' - regions where your eye just floats over the surface. 'Wallpaper' is an integral component of most photographs: there are always going to be areas of the picture where you wish for the viewers eye to float freely without getting trapped or stuck.

By smoothening any textural details out of these regions of the frame, I can also allow the viewer to see the gradual tonal shifts that underpin the area. For instance, if you look at the water, the tones get darker as we move towards the bottom of the frame and the eye enjoys seeing smooth gradual shifts.

Similarly with the sky I've adopted the same approach, which is perhaps a point on its own: if you have clouds, do you need them? Often I'm wishing for skies with either complete cloud cover (for softer light all-round), or to reduce textural detail in the frame. I will deliberately go to certain places at certain times of the year because the skies are clear of clouds (Bolivia for instance) otherwise there is perhaps too much information or 'things' for the viewers eye to get stuck at. We're back to talking about tones and form. Too much form and we have too much distraction. So I'll often use a long shutter speed to smoothen out the clouds in the sky.

If you're a film shooter - which there is a good chance you might be in 2017, since I've begun to notice over the past few years that around 2 people in every group of 6 is a hybrid shooter (film and digital), then doing long exposures require the need to calculate reciprocity.

Just in case you don't know what reciprocity is, I'll explain. When shooting film, most folk think that the relationship between the shutter and aperture remain constant. They don't. As you get down to longer exposures, film loses it's sensitivity; and the relationship between the shutter speed and aperture begin to drift apart. Typically once you get past 4 seconds with Velvia. Which means that if you rely on your meter, you're going to underexpose your images. So you need to compensate.

I didn't use a long shutter speed here. It was a very calm evening and the only possible textural distraction would have been in the reflections of the mountains. I felt using a long shutter speed was a case of diminishing returns: not required. So rather than use long shutter speeds all the time to smoothen things down, get used to 'reading' your landscapes - watch them to see how dynamic they are.

I didn't use a long shutter speed here. It was a very calm evening and the only possible textural distraction would have been in the reflections of the mountains. I felt using a long shutter speed was a case of diminishing returns: not required. So rather than use long shutter speeds all the time to smoothen things down, get used to 'reading' your landscapes - watch them to see how dynamic they are.

It's very easy to get into the realm of long shutter speeds if you are shooting in low light or with some ND filters applied. With Velvia, if your meter tells you the exposure should be 4 seconds and beyond, then reciprocity needs to be applied.

Here is a table of corrected values:

4s becomes 5s
8s becomes 12s
16s becomes 28s
30s becomes 1 minutes 6s
1 minute becomes 2 minutes 30 seconds
2 minutes becomes 4 minutes, 50 seconds

And you shouldn't need to go beyond that, as the contrast will get too high and the colours too funky.

Either write them down, or better - remember them. I used to have them on a little laminated card for the first few years of shooting, but the corrections have now been memorised. That's one of the beauties of staying with a single film type for most of my photography career. The less variables I have to my 'process' the more second-nature things become.

Photographing in inclement weather

Cameras can take rain, so long as they're not left in a damp bag for days afterwards, that way they will die for sure. Cameras don't need to be weather sealed to be used in the rain, they just need a bit of sensible looking after, and taken in and dried once you're done. I've yet to have a camera die from rain water. They die because they're left in damp bags for too long.

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If you only photograph when it's dry, then you'll be extremely limited to the kinds of photographs you can make. Your photography will only show a narrow view of what the world has to offer and you'll be selling yourself short.

If you are worried about taking that $3,000 USD camera body out in the rain, then you've bought the wrong camera. Buy something you can take everywhere and not worry about. Better still, buy a used cheap body and abuse it.

Cameras are tools to be used. They should never stop you from making images and if they do, I'd suggest you get rid of them and buy something else that doesn't get in the way. That goes for cameras that are too complicated to use, or are too delicate for a bit of rain.

I'm lucky that I use old Hasselblad film cameras. They are 100% mechanical. They are inexpensive to replace if I break them. I've broken a few in my time because of the elements I work in. Sometimes they begin to rust inside due to all the salt air, or the fine sand of the Bolivian deserts cause wear and tear. The volcanic dust in Iceland can be particularly harsh also. But I'm never worried about them because at the end of the day - it's the photos that matter. I don't want to be held back by worrying about looking after the camera equipment.

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But before you think I don't care about my equipment, I'd like to tell you that I'm a gear head. I love photography equipment, and I do like to look after it. I just think photos matter more and so I do push them and use them in sandy, dusty, rainy places.

To clean them, I use a paint brush - 1 inch wide DIY store paint brush to get all the muck and dirt off the body. Blower brushes are pretty useless and when you have wet sand on a body, I'll leave it to try and then use the paint brush to wipe the sand off. It works beautifully.

So I do try to look after my equipment, but I also am not afraid to use it either.

Electronic cameras can take more rain water than you might imagine, but if you're not sure, then I suggest buying a cheap body to go out with. If you get those moody shots you want, then I think you won't look back, even if the resolution of the cheap digital body isn't anything close to your new camera.

The shots made in this post today were made in very foggy weather or in the middle of heavy downpour. The rain was so heavy that everyone else had retreated to the car. There was fine volcanic dust being blown around by the wind and it got into my camera bag, and into the body of my Hasselblad. I got soaked and the black sand of the desert began to stick to everything - my hands, my clothing and the outside of my camera equipment.  I was in my element though, as I knew I could not get these pictures of the desert any other way.

Use your equipment, and take it everywhere. Buy equipment that you're not afraid to damage, because it will also buy you  the freedom to experiment and work in all climatic conditions.

Tea & Company

I was looking for a nice group photo for this very website, and I found this one in my email. I'd completely forgotten about this (how could I?). Karsten who orchestrated this image asked us all to move, but for me to keep still and to keep a straight face.

It was very hard to keep the tea cup balanced on our heads too ;-)

Image © Karsten Joppe, Assynt Workshop Participant, October 2016

Image © Karsten Joppe,
Assynt Workshop Participant, October 2016

I've met so many great friends along the way this past decade of running workshops and tours. Doing something that you love means you attract others who love the same thing, and there is great unity in that. It's not often in the towns or cities that we live in, that we can find others who share the same interests and outlooks. With running a focussed effort around one thing (in my case - landscape photography) I attract others who are also interested in it. It's been fun and a lesson that if you do what you love, you tend to attract those who have similar outlooks in life.

Style is derived from Relating to the landscape

Building relationships is key to everything we do in life. In the case of friendships and family, we have to spend time with them to let the relationship blossom and deepen. The same is true of landscapes. As we spend more time in certain places, the relationship deepens. We begin to understand them in ways that the casual observer does not. Similar to meeting people for brief moments although we get a rush of new impressions, the relationship is still too young to really know them. So too, with landscapes.

hrafntinnusker, Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2017

hrafntinnusker, Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

I'm lucky that over the past decade that I've been living my photographic-life, I've had the luxury of repeatedly visiting certain landscapes. They have become intimate, personal friends. Some I now know so well they are like old friends: I don't need to see them too often, but when I do encounter them, I know exactly where I am with them. Others are recent friends, I've known them for maybe a couple of years and I'm still learning about them.

We also define ourselves by whom we know. I think I define my photography by the relationships I have with certain landscapes. Iceland has been part of my photographic world for thirteen years, while Patagonia fourteen years. The Fjallabak landscape in the central highlands of Iceland is relatively recent as I have been spending time with it for around five years now. And then there is Hokkaido, a recent acquaintance of just over two years that I am still getting to know.

They have helped shape and define my photography, and my photography has contributed to who I am. So in a sense, these landscapes are part of me.

We should be choosy about whom we let into our lives. Invite those that are supportive and that you can support back, is my advice. Being around healthy attitudes and positive people is an ingredient for a happy life with room for you to grow. Similarly, choosing your landscapes wisely, by going for those that resonate with you and perhaps those that keep calling you back is vital, if you are to develop your own internal landscape.

hrafntinnusker, Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2017

hrafntinnusker, Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

The landscapes I work with have defined part of who I am. They have defined my signature. They illustrate not only what I resonate with, but also what appeals to my aesthetic. There is often a theme running through all of them. I do not just go anywhere. I am only interested in spending time with those landscapes where I know that I grow with each visit.

Choose your landscapes wisely and they will support you as a photographer. Work with those that resonate with you, because that is where any development in your photographic style will eventually occur.

Post exhibition thoughts and impressions

I thought I would write today about my experiences and impressions from the little exhibition that I held this summer.

I hadn't really any goals for this exhibition except to have a space to show my work in printed form. So often we gauge others work by looking at it on websites and I think this is a real shame, as there is nothing quite like looking at a well printed image. Indeed, isn't this what all photographer should be doing - creating photographs? And by that, I mean the printed variety. Not some electronic, summarised, quantised 72 dots per inch low resolution representation.

Photographs deserve to be printed and they deserve to be exhibited. It is the final stage in one's own work.

Now that the exhibition is over, it seems that it was on for too short a time. I would have loved to have had a month to exhibit or maybe two months, but there simply isn't any way to do this without incurring major costs.

But what of the experience of exhibiting, and manning the gallery each day? Well, I had a great time. I can't deny it. I met so many lovely people during the two week period and heard so many encouraging and positive views about what I do. It is something I seldom hear about my own work during workshops because everyone is keen to learn, so the focus isn't on myself, but more on the teaching. So what I really got from this little exhibition was how much some people love what I do.

It also gave me a much more personal exchange. Rather than posting images on Flickr, or Facebook, or on my own blog, and seeing e-correspondence, instead I was able to get a better feel for my work by seeing how the viewers in the gallery responded.

It was also deeply satisfying to be able to present the work. I have made so many images over the past few years and I've never been able to print all of them. There is something special about seeing ones own work come to life, to become a real printed object,. Then there is something about matting it. It just makes the work look better, and if that wasn't enough, framing it really sets the images up another level. But I think the icing on the cake is to have them hung on the wall in a space. I got a lot of pleasure out of seeing all my images on display in one space.

I had so much support from friends and family. Many people stopped by each day to see how I was doing, and many also bought prints or copies of my book. Sometimes I knew it was because they liked the work but other times I also understood that they were doing it to support me. It was a very kind gesture by friends and it really said something to me that friends would want to try to help and support me in what I do.

Lastly, having an exhibition really puts purpose to my image making. Going out there is a lot of fun and creating the work is very satisfying, but there's something a little sad about it not being displayed anywhere. Photographs should be printed, and they should be shown. No matter who you are, or what stage you are with your photography, every keen photographer should exhibit. It's good for the soul, and not only does it give you focus to what you do, it is highly rewarding artistically, and also from an emotional support point of view. I had so much kind support from friends and people I've met along the way, that I think this was the biggest / nicest surprise of it all.

I am now making plans to exhibit again towards the end of 2018, for a longer duration. There will be another book to support the exhibition also. I will be keeping you posted in the coming months.

Is there a need for Narrative?

During the summer, I was interviewed and  asked if I could explain the narrative behind my photography. On impulse, I responded 'I've never considered that my photography has any kind of story. My images are just aesthetic responses, ones that please me'.

Hokkaido-(20).jpg

I couldn't help feel that looking for, or requiring a narrative in one's photography could be a little bit pretentious. I appreciated that my interviewer's question was asked with genuine sincerity, but I just felt that my imagery is just an emotional response - I do what I do, and the images are what they are, and it's up to the viewer to see in them what they see.

Having given it some thought, I've come to realise that narrative doesn't specifically have to be a clearly defined story, and if there is any kind of narrative to what I do, then it is about leaving enough room, so that others can form their own story.

Like a song we have fallen in love with, each of us forms our own internal emotional response and our own personal vision of what a song truly means. Most song lyrics are often abstract, vague formations of words that give the listener room to form their own interpretation. For me, that is something I find very appealing - that we are allowed to create our own internal dream world.

Having a narrative may be important to some of us. But for me, if I do have any narrative, it is in leaving things deliberately open and inconclusive. I prefer to let the viewer make up their own mind.

World Citizen

I've never strayed into talking about politics on this blog, and I hope that it stays this way. However, with an aim to being apolitical, I've come to find that my life these days is one as a 'world citizen'. I do so much travelling and have met so many wonderful friends from far and wide, that I have come to one conclusion: we are all the same. 

In the next eight months, I will be in the following countries:

Argentina
Bavaria - Germany
Brazil
China
France
Greenland
Ireland
Iceland
Japan
Romania
Russia
Scotland
Switzerland

All photography related of course :-) And before you judge me: I know how privileged I am to do so much travel these days. I am aware that my life has changed so much that my eldest sister tells me 'you come home for a holiday Bruce', to which I think she may be right.

Anyway, as much as I think a sense of nationalism is important - it's good to be proud of the country or region we come from. We should remind ourselves that the world is rapidly becoming a smaller, more local place. We are all world citizens, if not by travel, then at least in spirit.

All landscape photographers share a love for the landscape, and we do not discriminate with where beauty is situated. I see similarities in the landscapes of many countries to each other and the more I continue to travel, this just seems to become more commonplace. The same is true with the friends I have met over the duration of my travels. I have friends from Trinidad / Tobago to Egypt and Russia. All started out as participants on my workshops and tours. All lovely people and we all share the same passion: landscape photography.

Landscape photography has no borders. It is for those who have a world-view. In fact, I believe we are world-citizens in our outlook, simply because of what we do, even if we may never get out of our own country (or region) to make pictures elsewhere. It is our wonder for the landscape that unifies us.

Gitzo Giant Tripod GT5563GS

Since 2013, I've been using a tripod much taller than I am. I am six feet tall, and my present tripod has been the Gitzo GT3542 XLS tripod, which is over six feet tall. I've written about why I think the height of a tripod is critical to my compositions in a previous post on this blog. You can find it here.

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Having a tall tripod is one of the most important criteria for me when choosing one (also, no centre column is important too!). Landscape is seldom flat and there are often times when a standard tripod is fully extended, yet does not reach my eye.

But the problem of tripod height is more critical than simply being able to have the camera at eye level while being perched up high on some slope, or whilst standing on some rock. Tripod height is a critical yet often forgot about component of composition.

Although tripods do not help us find compositions (really, you should go hunting with your camera in your hand before setting up your tripod, otherwise you will become locked-in if you attach your camera straight away), tripods excel at helping us fine-fine compositions. Their purpose is not simply to keep the camera steady. I often find that a composition can be greatly improved by some slight adjustment of the tripod placement. Hand-holding does not work because we tend to wobble the camera around while thinking about what we're photographing. Having the camera attached to a tripod allows us to take our eye away for a rest, and then reconvene. It also allows us to study the composition with 100% of our effort, because the tripod is keeping the composition steady for us.

However, when it comes to trying out slight variations of a found composition, tripods are rarely adjusted in height above our eye-level. Sure, there are times when we will compress our tripods down the way - below our eye-level so we can get closer to foreground subjects, or to compress the mid ground in our compositions. But rarely do we extend the tripod so the camera is above us. And we're missing out on so much by not utilising the space above our heads.

In the age of digital capture, shooting from above head height should be a cinch. We now have cameras with adjustable preview screens so we can compose from above our heads and still see what we're doing. This vantage point should offer up something quite new from the usual 'shoot at eye level'.

My current tripod is a Gitzo 3542XLS. It extends above six foot, so it's taller than me, and I've used it fully extended many times, either because I am on a slope, or standing on a rock and require the tripod to stay at my full height. I've even shot my camera from above me without seeing what the composition is, because I've known I needed more separation between objects in the frame that my normal height won't give me.

This week I've bought a new tripod. The Gitzo GT5563GS. It is a series 5 tripod, and is the tallest tripod that Gitzo offer. It has a height of just over 9 feet tall ! Even with my existing tripod - the GT3542XLS, which is taller than I am, I still find myself at times wishing for more height than it can offer. So this is why I've chosen to go for such an extremely high tripod.

The downside of going for such a taller system is the weight. It is 50% heavier than my existing 3542XLS model. So I'm a little uncertain as to whether the new Giant Tripod will work for me in the long term, and like any review of a new item that I've just bought, it's simply too soon to know for sure if the tripod is going to work out for me. So I will be sure to let you know how I get on with such a large tripod over the coming months, as I feel that at least a year or so is the only way to truly get to know a product well. Anything less is not sufficient.

If you are looking for a new tripod,  do think about buying one that is taller than you are. You won't regret it as I am always finding compositions that wouldn't have been possible with a tripod that only comes up to my eye level.

two parts of a whole

Over the past month I've been returning to Ray Metzker's 'City Still's' book, sadly out of print because Ray is no longer with us, having passed away in 2014.  The book is a fascinating study of form and tone.

Ray was a master printer, who could use his darkroom techniques to help bring forward the graphical elements in everyday street scenes. 

Image © Ray Metzker. This is really a study of vertical lines and two or three discreet tones.

Image © Ray Metzker. This is really a study of vertical lines and two or three discreet tones.

Metzker also had the talent to spot graphical elements in the everyday at the point of capture, and to work with them later in the darkroom. He was no 'post' processor - I doubt very much that anything he did in the editing stage was an afterthought.

I really abhor the term 'post-processing' because it encourages us to think that our editing may be something we do 'afterwards'. It encourages us to think of the two tasks of capture and edit as unrelated. They shouldn't be.

With Metzker's finely printed work, it's clear to me that he saw his edits at the point of capture. He knew how far he could pull and push certain tones in his darkroom, and this propelled him to go looking for tones and forms that would work within the parameters of his darkroom skills.

Image © Ray Metzker. I've never been so captivated by a car door before.

Image © Ray Metzker. I've never been so captivated by a car door before.

Photography is sometimes about making the viewer reconsider, to think again, to look at something in a way they may have never done before. Who would have known that the curve of a car door could be the focal point of a photograph as we see above?

Nor would one expect to be so enthralled by the coat tail and side lighting of clothing of anonymous passers by, as in the photo below?

Image © Ray Metzker. When has the coat tails of a jacket appeared to be so beautiful to the eye?

Image © Ray Metzker. When has the coat tails of a jacket appeared to be so beautiful to the eye?

The people in the image above are not important. We cannot see their faces and we do not need to know who they are, because the photograph is not about them. It is instead a study of form and tone, and Metzker uses the interplay of frozen people's clothing to bring us to certain forms. His printing approach is to subdue almost everything in the photo, and to give high relief to the highlights on the clothing. It is as if Metzker saw this kind of form and tone as an ongoing symphony in his everyday encounters, and I'm sure his darkroom work informed his choices when he was out shooting.

So I would ask of you, what do you see when you walk around your town? Are you seeing beyond the obvious? And if you are, how much of what you see is graphical?

To my mind, Metzker saw the graphical in the everyday. I sympathise with his ability to abstract the normal into a beautiful photograph because this is what I aim to do with my landscape work. I'm not interested in the verbatim. I'm much more interested in finding graphical forms and tones in nature and bringing them out in the printing / editing stage. So much so, that I go looking for them in the first instance.

I'd hate to think I am still doing things as an afterthought, as this is really the approach of a beginner. Instead, I would like to think that my capture and editing have become two pieces of a whole,  an interrelated activity where one informs the other, as they should.

Long Chin San's Photographic Painting

"Photography should take us on a journey within. Good images should allow us to tap into our imagination and see beyond the subject to a meaning that is ours alone, a personal impression or feeling"

I have a large collection of photographic books at home. So many in fact, that until recently, they had extended beyond the book shelves and were taking up space on my studio floor. I've tidied them up and done a bit of autumn (it's coming!) cleaning, to give my book collection the space it deserves.

One book that I've revisited this month is a small publication from China about the photographer Long Chin San. I thought I would share with you some of the images from this book. These were made in the 1950's, and I just love them. 

Long chin San took objects such as flattened flowers, leaves and twigs and placed them onto photographic paper, exposing them to light to create these innovative photographs. He called these works 'photographic paintings'.

I'm not a verbatim photographer. I don't see photography as a means to capture what was there, but instead, as a means to give an interpretation. I think we are still very much at the emerging stage of photography: it is going to evolve and change so much over the coming century that to think of it only as a means for recording real pictures is to limit its application and potential.

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I believe the past often gives us clues and hints as to where we are going in the future. With this in mind, photography has always been an experimental medium and photographers have always manipulated their work since the first images were recorded. We all know that Ansel Adams greatly manipulated his prints and that they were often a radical departure from the initial negative. Manipulation and specifically interpretation of a scene are nothing new and this knowledge, and acceptance of photography as a creative medium, not just as a way of recording the real world is vital in letting the medium evolve.

Thus, looking at these beautiful 'photographic paintings', I see not only beauty, but great potential for the future. There is always room for exploration.

I know that influences come from many sources and I'm touched to think that perhaps my most recent Icelandic 'minimalist' images are derived from looking at these photographic paintings of Long Chin San's. I've never been much interested in the verbatim aspects of photography. I'm much more interested in creating a new reality, or a vision of one. I'm more  'art' than 'verbatim', and that's why I find these images of Long Chin San so appealing.

Photography should take us on a journey within. Good images should allow us to tap into our imagination and see beyond the subject to a meaning that is ours alone, a personal impression or feeling.

In these photographic paintings of Long Chin San's, I can't help feel he has conjured up beautiful compositions that would be most difficult to find in real life: because real life is never this perfect. And yet, when we look at landscapes, I think this is what we do: we try to distill them into some kind of order, some kind of sense of arrangement that pleases us, and makes us feel good. That is why the paintings of Hokusai for instance resonate with me: the great wave off  Kanagawa is perfect: everything is in place, as it should be. One would hope in our photography that we can reach such idealistic compositions.

I love these 'photographic paintings'. I'm convinced they have been instrumental in my own photographic development. I find them very beautifully composed and very pleasing and I think I often aim to simulate this level of beauty in my own work.

The book by the way, is called:

'Landscape on Negatives,
A special exhibition of Long Chin-San's Photographs Works',

Published by Cultural Relics Press, 2012.

Is there a Fire in the forest?

Whilst editing my recent set of Icelandic images, it was the first time in a long while where I felt uncertain about what I was doing. I trust my feelings on my creativity very much and I've come to learn that when the work is strong, a sense of decisiveness pervades, and when the work is weak I can find myself lacking conviction in what I do.

But uncertainty is something else all together.

Did I take it too far? Did I lose my senses?

Did I take it too far? Did I lose my senses?

I felt as though I was in trouble. Had I gone too far? Were the edits too abstract? Maybe I should back out, return the images to a more conventional look?

The more I worked on the images, the more I felt less easy to back out of the direction I was taking. Like a forest fire that is out of hand, where there is no going back, I had started on a path that wasn't easy to retreat from.

Each step you take adds fuel to the fire, and each experience you have ultimately changes you. We are, after all, made up from our experiences and memories.

Uncertainty isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can sometimes just mean you are somewhere you've never been before, and being somewhere new may suggest that you have crossed some perceived boundary in your work.

So I'm left wondering now: did I start a fire in the forest? and If so, where is it going to take me?

Exhibition last day (Wednesday 2nd)

My exhibition in Edinburgh has been fun. I've met loads of nice folks. Wednesday 2nd is my last day so please do come along. It would be nice to see you. I'm there from 12 to 4:30. I have copies of my books and will happily sign them  (or not - if that is your wish)  :-)

I've sold 13 prints so far - which is 13 more than I anticipated selling. Purely because I had no idea, no previous experiences to gauge from. I will be packing up the prints and putting them in boxes in the evening. Hopefully I may find another place to exhibit but if not, well, it's been a lot of fun.

Now that my little exhibition is coming to a close, I find myself looking towards the future. I was never really sure why I chose to do an exhibition, but this week I've realised I wanted to mark my 50th (I'm 50 in September).

It's important to put a marker in the ground sometimes. To take a moment to be in the present and to reflect on where you've come from and where you may be going. It has been officially 10 years since I began running workshops and tours - my first tour being in April 2007 in Torres del Paine national park in Chile. 

I'm wondering what's up ahead. I can't imagine it will be as surprising as the past 10 years have been but then I never imagined how good the past decade would be either. 

Photography is a journey. It's an open road with many twists and turns and just like life, you never know what wondrous surprises are in store.

My new 'art table', which will be installed in my home studio once I pack up the exhibition. Flowers were a kind gift to me from a dear client of mine from South Korea. Thanks very much Kidoo !

My new 'art table', which will be installed in my home studio once I pack up the exhibition. Flowers were a kind gift to me from a dear client of mine from South Korea. Thanks very much Kidoo !

I think I lost something along the way

I'm sure there must be a proverb out there that says: "in gaining wisdom, we lose innocence".

This week I've been running an exhibition in my hometown of Edinburgh. On the walls of the gallery I have these two images. As far as the exhibition goes, they are (respectively) my oldest and newest images that I have on display.

The first image was created in 2009 in the north west of Scotland. Despite many people thinking it is the distinctive Stac Pollaidh mountain of Assynt, it is in fact Ben Eoin. If I were to dissect it, I would say that this image shows that I was beginning to get more interested in shapes and patterns in my photography: the way the shape of the tree fits neatly into the space below the reflection of the mountain was a deliberate compositional choice at the time of exposure.

Early beginnings? Loch Lurgainn & Ben Eoin, Assynt, Scotland. © 2009

Early beginnings?
Loch Lurgainn & Ben Eoin, Assynt, Scotland. © 2009

I think you can often look back at where you've come from and see the path to where you are now. Somehow, it's pretty easy to see the direction of the journey you've been on. Yet, perhaps not so clear an indication of where you are going to go in the future. But you can get a hint of it as I feel that the past often indicates some elements of the future because looking back you can see traces of where you are now in your older work.

That aside, I've been thinking about how my style of photography has been changing (it has been a purely intuitive one for me: I have not consciously chosen to go the direction I have gone in. Instead, it has been an intuitive process, one which  I have seldom over-thought it). Suffice to say that I realise there has been change and that there has been a distillation of what I do over the eight years between the two images you see on todays post.

Present position. Grasleysfjoll, Iceland. © 2017

Present position.
Grasleysfjoll, Iceland. © 2017

But I also recognise something else.

As we gain experience in what we do, we tend to iron out the rough edges. Aspects of who we were are removed and although we may be wishing to improve our technique and vision, I do think something is always lost along the way of progress. Perhaps it's a sense of innocence in that I'm referring to.

I like to think that experience is a double-edged sword. On the one had it allows us to have a better understanding of what can and cannot be achieved, but it can also be a prison sentence. When you know what should be done you tend to discard possibilities for exploration and are less likely to be open to new discoveries: if you don't know there are any rules, you're more likely to break them.

Developing style and perfecting what you do, as much as they are things to aspire to, can become a set of hand-cuffs. As we develop our style and vision, I think we can become less able to experiment. Rather than letting our creativity go in places we have never been before, we may find ourselves going down the same tired old routes because we know they work and there is safety in these familiar patterns.

I think good artists are willing to not only explore, but perhaps more importantly, they are willing to let go of things they know have worked well for them in the past.

It's ok to change. It's ok to say goodbye to aspects of what you did that you loved, or still love. The last thing you need is to find yourself in a rut because you are too afraid to let go of things you know still work well.

To me this is similar to someone who is in a good job, a lovely home, but they wish to go do something else. It's safe to stay where you are because it's comfortable, but there's also something extremely boring and damaging about doing so. All you know is, changing and moving forward although risky, makes you feel more alive.

Looking back at my older work, I see things in it I wish I still had. I'm aware that I've lost things along the way. I do admit to feeling a sense of loss for the qualities I feel I no longer possess, but only in the way that I realise they can't exist alongside where I am now. To change means you have to let go, and when you change anything, you always lose something in the process. It is impossible to have both.

One last thing today before I go. I do think there is something often quite beautiful about early beginnings. This innocence I speak of: this quality of trying out things that somehow become lost along the way: it's an elusive quality. I often see it in many artists work, not just photographers. Musicians and painters, writers and actors. You don't often know you have it when you do, and you don't have it any longer once you know you had it.

It's impossible to recapture the past. All you can do, is keep moving forward and respect where you've come from. Realise it had its time, and that you are different now.

Exhibition

Below is a photo of thirteen of thirty eight prints on display at my exhibition in Edinburgh this week. It's been really rewarding to see my work up on the wall, but most important to me is that I have been able to share this special time with so many wonderful friends that I've met through my photography. So many nice friends at my private opening night last night: thanks for coming :-)

Campo de Piedra Pomez (the pumice stone field)

Imagine a field with white pumice rock, in strange shapes and patterns, that goes on for tens of kilometres. This is where I camped for two nights so I could be there for sunrise and sunset.

The elevation is around 3,500 metres. The drive in from the nearest town of El Piñon is long, perhaps two hours, and not that easy to find again if you are trying to leave the Pumice field after the sun has gone down. A GPS system is very much needed.

But I chose to camp here for two very long days.

In the daytime the tents that my guide brought in would bake. They were like greenhouses with the sun beating on them, but to be outside was even worse. And there was no shade from the overhead sun. So I just had to open the doors of the tent and pray for a breeze. The final hour towards sunset would start of slow, but as the light started to change, things would happen fast. Too fast, and even though I had spent the afternoon scouting out potential locations that I thought had great composition potential, I still found the light didn't react the way I had anticipated. I had to change plan and react fast.

After sunset had finished, and after a few moments of wrestling with my camera because the film back would occasionally jam, the temperature would plummet. I'd return back to the camp site to find my guide Pancho had made a dinner for me, and we'd stare at the milky way (what a sight to see when there is no light pollution for many many miles all around!), before deciding it was now getting too cold to stay outside.

The mornings would be worse. Really, really freezing cold. Can you imagine having to get out of a nice warm sleeping bag to try and put on some freezing clothes? And then stumble around with a head torch looking for good compositions? My hands would be biting cold and sometimes I would swear to myself. It was painful.

Once the sun was up, I'd feel a sense of relief. The feeling had returned to my frozen hands, and I was now glad that the long wait was over: we could leave this place. As beautiful as it is, and as fascinating as it was to walk around this massive field of strange structures the size of houses, I was glad to be leaving for civilisation.

You have to put the effort in, to get something back. I had planned to come back here for two years and although the two days of hanging around here had been long, boring and uncomfortable, I had felt I'd managed to tap into the potential of this place. Often it's the places that are hardest to get to, that intrigue me the most.

The Labyrinth, Tolar Grande, Argentina

I went back to the Puna de Atacama this past April to do some further photography, because the first time I was there (2015), I saw so much potential but failed to capture what I saw.

This trip was more successful. And this is one of my favourite places - the labyrinth just outside the dust bowl town of Tolar Grande. It is remote, takes about 2 hours to get here from its neighbouring town and we drove out here two mornings and two evenings so I could get this shot. You see, it takes a while to figure out where the sun is going to hit the tips of the mountains of red clay, and then I only had 20 minutes (if that) to make some exposures. So it was all a bit of a rush, with long driving distances in between.

I'm just editing the latest collection of Puna images as of today and it's been very enjoyable to go back and relive the trip. The Puna is the Argentine section of the Atacama which comprises the Chilean section, the Bolivian Altiplano. But all three are different in some ways and the Puna has a few surprising locations that are not present in Chile or Bolivia.

More to follow soon.

Book is now Sold Out (and out of print).

We sold the last copy of my 3rd book today. It is a strictly limited edition run of 300 copies and as such, we won't be re-printing it. Many thanks to those of you who bought a copy. We will be shipping them out 2nd of August.

Colourchrome Monograph
from 35.00

Photographic Images 2009 - 2017

Exhibition Book

Please note: This book is now out of print.

To mark the first exhibition of Bruce's photography, this book covers his work from 2009 to the present. 

The book is laid out in order of tonal range starting with Bruce's serenely minimal Hokkaido images before moving on to the lower registers of tonality by visiting the black deserts of central Iceland. The book concludes with his full spectrum work from the Bolivian Altiplano.

Book dimensions:

  • 10 inches x 10 inches x 0.25 inches

Standard Edition:

The standard edition is limited to 200 copies.

    • 40 photographic plates, 170mm x 170cmm
    • Three chapter Introductions regarding tone and composition

    Special Edition:

    The special edition is limited to 100 copies. Each copy has one of three prints available:

    • 33 editions with signed / numbered Hokkaido Print 
    • 33 editions with signed / numbered Iceland Print
    • 34 editions with signed / numbered Bolivia Print

    Tapping into an energy

    When I begin to work on a new set of images, I feel as though I've tapped into an energy far beyond my own comprehension. It's as if I'm not driving the work and that it is coming from elsewhere. That might sound a bit hokey, but I really can't put my finger on what the creative process is. It has its own energy. All I know is, that when I'm creating new work,  I'm on a creative high, as I sense something new is coming into being.

    Images shot in the central highlands of Iceland March 2017. Images © Bruce Percy 2017

    Images shot in the central highlands of Iceland March 2017.
    Images © Bruce Percy 2017

    Standard edition now sold out

    The standard edition of my book is now sold out. We currently only have 6 copies left of the deluxe limited edition book as seen below, which comes in a dark blue cover.

    This is a one-time printing only. We won't be making a 2nd printing of the book.

    I'm delighted with the response to the book, and now that I've seen it myself, I'm very very happy with the print reproductions inside. 

    If you'd like a copy, we only have a few Bolivia print editions and Hokkaido Print editions left.

    Many thanks to those of you who bought a copy of the book.

    Bruce.

    Colourchrome Monograph
    from 35.00
    Edition:
    Add To Cart

    Bolivia Print Deluxe Edition.