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.
Monochrome on an unprecedented scale
The central highlands of Iceland isn’t truly as monochromatic as this portfolio may suggest. Even though the landscape does contain black and white elements, it really has more colour than my images make out.
I’ve said for a long while that I’m not a verbatim photographer. I don’t shoot what is there. Instead, I like to focus on what my mind thinks is there. I like to get under the skin, and to focus more on what I think the underlying character of a landscape is. For me, the central-highlands is a stark wonder made up of graphic, black and white elements.
As photographers, what we conjure up in our mind’s eye is often a subtraction of the real world. We remove what we find unnecessary and keep what we think is vital. We are biased in attempting to record our own view of things. Indeed, I think photography is about creating one’s own story. It is a medium that allows us to show other what we saw, what we felt was there.
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.
I had no idea what to expect.
The images in this portfolio range from the Bran and Magura areas of Transylvania to the southern Carpathian mountains.
When I returned home, I had no idea how I would approach the review and edit of the work. So I decided to shelve it. Sometimes I have to do that. I’m too close to it, and now eight months later I’m able to look at the work and interpret it.
Sometimes, you just need one image to define the portfolio set. That’s it in a nutshell for me: the first image led the way. Once I got that, I knew where the edits might take me, and that a very very dark blue tone would be a feature of the set.
I’m still getting comfortable with this collection. To some degree, some of the images could easily have been created in Hokkaido, yet there’s more texture, something less clean, more random about the Romanian landscape.
Many thanks to Florin Patras and Dorin Bofan for showing me around and for the very kind invite and generosity with their time. I’ve made good friends and that was worth the plane ticket alone :-)
Fjallabak Minimalism 2019
Scars on Land III
I’m fascinated by scars on land, that seem to float in space.
Venturing into the Icelandic interior during the winter time provides black brush strokes on a white canvas. Sky and ground become inseparable and the eye is fooled into thinking that the landscape is floating.
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.
Fjallabak Minimalism 2018
A different kind of minimalism
Last year we had the absolute minimal conditions in the interior of Iceland. Where last year it had been impossible to tell the difference between ground and sky, this year we were greeted with endless blue-sky days.
So we had to come up with another plan: we focussed on the sunrise and sunset times to work with the beautiful soft tones that I think this landscape excels at.
It's like I've been in a monochrome world this past year or so while my style of photography has become more and more minimal: less subject matter and less colour. But with this collection I feel as though I'm able to let a little colour back in.
Where we often think of scenes being overly complicated due to the number of objects we place within the scene, so too, can colour be too much sometimes. Trying to find the balance between a lot, and not enough is like trying to find the vanishing point. I think I'm really intrigued by the thought that something can move so close to becoming indiscernible, unclear. It ads mystery. Not quite knowing where the division is.
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.