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.
Fjallabak & Veiðivötn 2017
Dark tones abound
This year’s journey into the interior of Iceland seemed to bring on a further distillation of tone. Whereas last year’s photographs still contained a lot of colour, I found myself embracing the blackness of the landscape. Indeed, I feel I was attracted to it, and most of my subjects this year were focussed primarily on dark areas or areas with high contrast between black desert and water or sky.
There seemed to be less green evident everywhere, and the colour in the lakes had gone. Perhaps it had something to do with the filtration of the light? Regardless, it was just different from last year's visit, and I was different also, so any new photographs were bound to have a different character to them.
Whatever the reason for the change in the work, it’s best to let things go the way they want to go. Let them be what they want to be. This time the black desert spoke out more than it has on previous visits, and this time I listened. I can’t explain it more than that.
Fjallabak Minimalism 2017
Iceland's Fjallabak- a minimalist playground
The interior of Iceland during winter is a minimalist playground of black brush strokes against a white canvas. It is a place where sky and ground meet somewhere indivisible to the human eye.
If you are lucky, you meet the right landscape at the right time in your photographic development. Each landscape teaches us something about form and tone, and I believe that many of the landscapes I've encountered have been responsible for shaping my photographic style to a large degree.
I couldn't have come here before everything else I've photographed, I wouldn't have been ready and I doubt I would have known where to begin with this landscape. But it all feels clear to me now. I have been working towards simplified form and tone and this landscape is perhaps at the extreme end of my journey. It is perhaps the ultimate minimalist playground.
The outline of a mountain hanging in space, with no discernible difference between sky and ground is such a fascinating subject to play with. In this portfolio I have deliberately taken advantage of this ambiguity. The uncertainty that one does not know where the ground ends and where the sky begins can lead to all sorts of illusions, which interests me greatly.
I've never been too interested in conveying what is there, instead preferring to work with what is left unsaid.
Puna de Atacama 2017
The Cono de Arita, is the most otherworldly subject I have yet photographed. It is a startlingly graphic object that changes in contrast as the sun goes down.
The Puna de Atacama is a surprising place. With deep red labyrinths of clay, and kilometres of giant pumice sticking out of the desert like the shapes of a beached boat hulls, this place is like no other. Make no mistake, this part of the Atacama desert is different from its Bolivian and Chilean counterparts.
I first came here in 2015 to photograph, but i left feeling I'd only just scratched the surface. It's taken me two years to return, as my schedule is so booked out at least a year in advance.
This trip was twice the duration of my first effort, because everything is so spread out. The travelling distances are longer and rougher than the Bolivian landscape and that's saying something. Most days were spent sitting in the car anticipating what the evening shoot would provide.
Each evening the 'good' light would be short - only twenty minutes or so, in which to find a good vantage point. And some of the locations are so vast, that this task often overwhelmed me. I had to repeat many locations, often driving two hours in one direction, often twice a day for several days, so I could study the landscape and figure out what would work as well as not. The Puna is a puzzle that needs time and patience.
This landscape has a more remote, wilder feeling than the Bolivian Altiplano has. I can't explain why but maybe it's due to the more limited resources available; the high plateau of Argentina feels much poorer than its Bolivian cousin, and my guide Pancho would agree. He cites so much economic instability in Argentina as the cause. But I feel these remote places seem to be timeless, disconnected places that have little to do with outside factors. They are what they are, and I think they have rarely changed in decades, if not centuries.
In that respect, the Puna de Atacama is a timeless place to be and any time spent here seems to lead to a lot of introspection and silence.
I had no idea just how different and how wild the island of Senja would be compared to its more southerly neighbour, the Lofoten Islands. Norway's second largest island, Senja is an arctic wilderness.
Where the Lofoten islands are densely populated with many towns and houses dotted around the landscape, Senja has few. It leaves a lasting impression of an island that is bereft of people, a place where nature is in charge.
I found many motifs to work with here. In winter time, Senja's natural forests - of which there are many - offer up graphic black brush strokes on a white canvas of snow. It's a motif that I spent many happy hours working with. I particularly liked the days when the sky was just as blank and empty as the snow filled landscape was. At these times, sky and ground became inseparable; one and the same. A canvas with which to draw on.
Hokkaido (北海道) 2017
Return to Snow Country
I often feel that my first images of a new landscape may possess an elusive quality, one that is difficult to recapture on subsequent visits. There is an honesty present, simply because there are no preconceptions to hold on to. Everything is new.
Through repeated visits, this innocence may be replaced by experiences where the initial impressions can often become lost or burried.
Where last year Hokkaido was more about atmosphere and fog, this year I found myself confronted by a more literal representation.
Hokkaido is a landscape heavily touched by man, and I think by photographing these symmetrically placed trees, I've moved from a point of suggestion to something more unembellished, more truthful.
Fjallabak & Veiðivötn 2016
Fjallabak ('fiatlaback'), means 'behind the mountains'. It is a nature reserve situated in the central highlands of Iceland. It is also a place of remote, rugged and stark beauty.
In terms of colour and tone, I find Fjallabak to be the antithesis of the Bolivian altiplano.
Although both these landscapes can be vast, empty, minimal places, brothers of a sort, I approach Fjallabak very differently to that of its south american counterpart.
Where the altiplano asks for its bright vivid landscape to be embraced for what is there, Fjallabak is the opposite. With it's leanings towards the darker registers of tonality, it is a landscape occupied by suggestion and mystery. This I feel, is a quality that when found, should be embraced.
Shadows and dark tones in the landscape tap into our primeval instincts. These are spaces where our imagination is allowed to run free.
Hokkaido (北海道) 2015
Snow Country - Homage to Kenna
I was drawn here by the stunningly beautiful mono work of Michael Kenna. His highly personalised view of this island as a perpetual winter landscape of lone trees and fence posts, like brush strokes on a white canvas, left an indelible mark on my mind many moons ago. To my mind, Hokkaido is Kenna and Kenna is Hokkaido.
There is always value in following in the footsteps of those who influence you. You can learn so much from them. But at some point your paths should diverge as you find your own voice. This I believe only happens after some time.
I think I always knew I was going to come to Hokkaido. Like a rite of passage, I had to experience it for myself. I just didn’t know I would do it so late in my own photographic development, nor with the kind help of Michael Kenna himself.
I believe it's healthy to recognise my influences. Not only does the acknowledgement allow me to embrace them for what they have given me, but I also get the chance to consciously thank them for showing me the way forward. I've learned so much from studying Kenna’s minimalist style, particularly his Hokkaido landscapes. These lessons have been invaluable, and for this, I will always be eternally grateful. Thank you Michael.