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.
I actually shot these in February 2017. But the edits are February 2019. Since I believe that the edit is mostly the soul of the photographer’s aesthetic, I would like you to consider these as 2019 images and not 2017 ones.
I feel more relaxed about my compositions than I did a few years ago. My original portfolio of Senja images created in 2015 was an exploration into tone and separation of it. With this new collection I feel as though I’m relaxing a bit, letting the colour come in and also allowing for some random tones to remain in the shots. Perhaps they are more traditional landscapes, but I don’t think so. I don’t think I could have got to here without having done all the tonal work to my images over the past few years.
This set feels joyous to me. A celebration of soft tones, of letting the landscape be what it is, and me following it, rather than it being forced by me to be something it isn’t.
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 & 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.
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.
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.
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.