Shooting nothing isn’t easy. But then again, shooting landscapes that contain something is even harder.
What one discovers when they shoot a landscape that has been reduced down to some basic elements of form and tone is that these have to coexist and cooperate in a pleasing way for any photographic composition to work. It soon becomes apparent that ‘empty’ landscapes are very hard to shoot because they show up errors in tone or colour very quickly.
Once you’ve been working with simple landscapes for a while, returning to the more classic landscape one can’t help but find things to be texturally dense and cluttered. Too busy even, and you begin to comprehend that although simple landscapes were hard to do well, complex landscapes are even harder.
Visiting a place like Lençois Maranhenses forces this point upon you. It is seldom dense or cluttered and to the beginner one may wonder ‘what is there to shoot?’. It takes a bit of courage to trust that shape and tone are all that is needed. And in my book, the first step towards deconstructing your own photography to the basic, but essential building blocks of your art.
South Korea 2018
It always begins with an invitation. This time round, I went with no idea of what was there to photograph.
I travelled to the west coast and the east coast of South Korea over the space of eight days. My impressions of the country were of a massive sprawl of urbanisation with little room for nature.
But I did find it. And I made some pictures. I had a hunch I was getting something while I was there, but it wasn’t shouting at me with any particularly strong message. I just knew I had something.
I feel it was an introduction. Every first trip is just that after all. A trial to see if there’s more to discover, to see if you want to continue. Well, I certainly do. I feel South Korea may have more to offer me as a photographer. But it just has a very subtle way of showing itself to me.
With deepest thanks to Kidoo for the invitation, and for Jay’s selfless efforts as a guide and driver. Thank you both. I loved every minute of it and hope to return.
Scars on land
What is a landscape, other than scarified lines and mutable elements? What if water and sky are nothing but texture?
A place that your eye feels a dryness as it moves across the page. What if the land is nothing but scarified elements, fractures and abrasions?
The land itself has become un-land, and is nothing but difficult abrasions and rough edges?
Abrasive places have beauty as much as any traditional landscape. What one may define as quarry in an attempt to convey a sense of ugliness and deem a place as un-beautiful, may lack the comprehension that all landscapes, even difficult ones, are beautiful.
Hokkaido (北海道) 2018
Under the skin
This is my fourth time to Hokkaido and this time I spent a month here.
Although I returned to some favourite locations I also found myself exploring new hills and lone copse. The Japanese landscape sometimes seems to feel as if it has been landscaped specifically for the landscape photographer, but take a step back and zoom out, and it is clear this is an industrial island and nature is not at the forefront of its thoughts.
Weather plays a big part in the success of one's image making. Hokkaido is a place where you can top up on your vitamin D because there is so much sunlight, so many sunny days. You have to pick and choose your moments if you wish to record soft light which is only provided at sunrise, sunset and those moments when the skies are overcast.
The Scottish island of Harris is an old friend. I’ve been coming here since around 2009. It’s taught me so much and has been instructive in the development of my photographic style.
I’m not looking for the things I was looking for when I first came here. That’s what’s so special about revisiting a place after a few years have passed. You notice that you see new things, and not just because the landscape has changed, but because you have changed. What was once interesting to you has been cast aside, like the shedding of old skin, to be replaced by a new awareness.
The island hasn’t changed much, despite it turning into a photography mecca these days. There are so many photographic workshops and tours that run here each year, yet when I am there, I feel I have it all to myself. Which is wonderful.
And as for Harris ‘being done’, I beg to differ. Most landscapes are seldom ‘done’. The mere fact that I find myself seeing things anew, is a telling reminder. The landscape always has something to show us, we just have to listen.
Hokkaido (北海道) 2019
The Idealised View
Photography isn’t about capturing what’s in front of us. It’s more about capturing what is within us. Often when I see workshop participants want to stop somewhere to make a photograph, it isn’t what’s in front of them that they are drawn to. Instead, they are drawn to an idealised view of what’s there.
When we see a composition in our mind’s eye, what we do is take each element of the scene that is important to us, and discard the rest. Although the scene may be far from perfect, we focus on the parts that give us what we see in our mind, and discard the rest. This is often why many of us find our photographs never match what ‘we saw’ at the point of capture.
In other words: we have a tendency to idealise the view.
If we can find such an idealised view that requires little or no post-edit work, this is perhaps the goal we all seek. But it’s often not like that, and often most compositions out there are compromised in some way.
I think this is why I love Hokkaido so much. Although the landscape is heavily shaped by man, with a bit of work it is possible to find those rare moments when everything clicks into place and all the components before my camera lens fit into perfect symmetry. It satisfies my urge to make sense of the nonsensical, to make order of the disorderly, and to make pleasing compositions of random elements that come together for a brief moment in what seems like an intended way.
My deepest of thanks go to my guide in Tsuyoshi and my inspiration for coming to Hokkaido in the first place: Michael Kenna. I’ve learned so much from you. Thank you.
Lençóis Maranhenses 2018
Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses
Many years ago, while I was researching some places in the Atacama desert of Chile, I got talking to a couple from Brazil. It was new year’s eve and I was in San Pedro de Atacama for some personal photography.
My Brazilian friends spoke to me of a national park in Brazil that I should visit. I had not heard of it until then but their description of endless sand dunes and lagoons made me wonder if it might be a place worth visiting. The place they were talking about was Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses. It is a rare beauty of a place made up of endless sand dunes and lagoons that cover an area of 1,500 km2.
This collection of images were made during a one week visit to Lençóis Maranhenses, in March of 2018.
To make these photos, I had to hike over three days. There is no transport here, no roads, no infrastructure except for a couple of tiny remote villages in a desert oasis setting.
The first two days I walked around 10km per day while on the third day we walked 17km. Often leaving our desert oasis at around 4am so we could cover most of the distance before the day got too hot, arriving at our next camp around 8am.
Our early morning departures turned out to be ideal for photography. Travelling in a westerly direction we walked with the sun coming up behind us. I am no fan of the sun in my shot and it is in my view an amateur’s decision to shoot towards it during sunrise. The most beautiful light is at 180º from the sun. This is known as the anti-nodal point and it is where the colours are strongest while the light is softest. There was no exception on this trek and I was greeted with the most beautiful soft tones and subtle shades of colour during my morning walks.
On the final walk of 17km, we had to leave camp at 3am, so we could avoid most of the heat during the day. This meant walking in the dark for three hours, circumnavigating lagoons the size of lakes. This is something I shall never forget. Often our headtorches did not allow us to know just how big some of the lagoons were (many are the size of large lakes) and so it was always a gamble if we should go left or right around them. Further to this, sometimes it was hard to gauge the gradients of some of the dunes we had to walk down in the dark, and I sometimes mistook the scale of a dune to be much larger than what it turned out to be. So many optical illusions brought on by having few reference points to keep me right made for a lasting impression.
This is perhaps one of the most adventurous trips I’ve done. One of sleeping in hammocks outside in the open air, of staring up at the milky way and feeling the warm night breeze keep me dry at night, of walking in the dark around massive lagoons and of the cool sand soothing my bare feet as I walked. We sometimes made shortcuts through the shallower lagoons, sometimes submerged up to our knees in cool soothing water, and other times with the water up to our chests while carrying our camera bags on our shoulders. I shan’t forget Lençóis Maranhenses.
Torres del Paine national park in the heart of Chilean Patagonia is an old friend.
I’ve been coming here since 2003. Visiting old friends can often find oneself repeating the same stories and the same encounters. There is sometimes nothing new to develop in the friendship, but just being in each others company is still very beneficial.
My photography has gone through many changes over the years, and I often wonder ‘will I be able to photograph Torres del Paine in a new way?', or will I revert back to old habits?’.
I think that visiting the same landscape over many years can be a great barometer in ones own development. I feel as if I am able to see new things in a landscape that is now very familiar to me. It’s encouraging to note that I’m changing.
I also think that we are the accumulation of our experiences. I’m sure, when I look at these images of Torres del Paine that I see a little of my Hokkaido work in there. The subtle sensibilities I’ve build up by working in such a quiet landscape have allowed me to see Torres in a similarly quiet way also.
One thing leads to another, and through our journeys, we come out the other side changed. Always for the better.