There's something to be said about shooting a fairly mono-chromatic location on colour film.
Returning to south Iceland, I found lots of black beaches and glacial ice. I also found foreboding landscapes such as Reynisdrangar's sea stacks. And then of course, Skógarfoss waterfall, which never seems to be without tourists, demanded to be shot in the middle of the night around 1am. That kind of light brings a mood and also a reduced colour pallet to work with.
All this I felt, made my return trip to Iceland an exercise of shooting black and white subjects in colour.
Internalising a Scene
When I make images, I'm aware of feeling a connection to the landscape. If I'm in good spirits, then I believe that connection should work really well. But what if I'm not so well?
I came down with a chest infection the day I arrived in Iceland, and at the time, I felt it really hampered my creativity and enthusiasm. But looking back at these pictures now, I think the only thing it hampered was my willingness to carry out the full trip. Coming home early to rest, I had a chance to see these images sooner than I'd anticipated, and I'm really pleased with them. I guess, despite an awful cold, I was able to be objective and still make that connection.
An alien landscape full of light
I thought I'd experienced a wide range of landscapes until I saw and felt the Bolivian altiplano.
I could have been walking on Mars for all I knew.
Suffering from slight altitude sickness, I had a thumping headache and I was breathless, heart pumping as I took small steps around one of the strangest landscapes I've yet encountered.
But it was the dry cold temperature of the high altitude air that caught me unaware. One minute my hands were fine and the next they had frozen up into a state of unresponsiveness.
Unable to operate my camera, I had to retreat back to my 4WD for warmth.
Deception on a large scale
Standing on the Salar de Uyuni (largest salt plain in the world) at 6am, I watched the Moon set as the Sun began to touch and change the edges of the salt crust.
I felt I was in an arctic wilderness. Yet there was no ice to be seen, just the blinding brilliance of the salt plain.
This was just one of the deceptions of the Bolivian altiplano. A strange place where the ground is often brighter than the sky and where sunsets are often better than sunrises, it was all back to front.
Arctic Circle Home
I have so many places I call home now. Each time I come back to Lofoten in Norway, I spend time with my good friends who live here.
There is an extended curcle of expats living in the Lofoten Islands. It seems to be a place where strangers can come and be at home.
I believe that we all have a perfect place to be.
Some of us have always found home, while some of us have to go searching to find it.
I think Lofoten is home for many people who aren't from there originally. There is a magnetic pull that draws certain people here.
Rorbu and Snow
Lofoten to me, is an idyl. It holds a lot of dreams for me as a landscape, particularly so in winter.
With little red fishing huts (known as Rorbu), dotted around the landscape, and towering mountains jutting out of the sea, it is a place where I feel I can explore the possibility of making very romantic landscapes.
Isle of Eigg 2007-10
The bay of Laig
Perhaps the most photogenic beach in Scotland. The bay of Laig contains many geological gems and features and I never tire of it.
I love coming to Eigg. The island is perhaps only 4 miles long, but the tight knit community and the sense of space I get on this place always make for a rewarding trip.
I come back twice a year now to conduct a photographic workshop on this Island because I'm so taken with it.
I've been neglecting my own back yard for the past five years or so with too many enticing countries with exotic landscapes to visit.
But it was through looking at Paul Wakefield’s images and also the recent Joe Cornish book about the Scottish coast that inspired me to start visiting those areas of my own country that I know little or nothing about.
Eigg is an incredible little Island, and one that I hope I'll return to. As usual, there is never enough time to do a place justice in photographic terms.
A place worth returning to
I've been to Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares national parks several times now.
They are challenging environments in which to make good images. I must confess that the images in this little portfolio were created over several trips to the region.
As much as I'm in love with this area, I feel it is not indicative by the successes I've had here. It's taken a long time to create the images you see here.
I don't feel I'm finished with Patagonia. If anything, I've only just begun to understand the landscape and its challenging moods.
Film & Digital
One of the aspects that made it difficult for me to create a good body of work of Torres and Los Glaciares, was that I got lost in the digital revolution for a couple of year, which for me, personally was a blind alley.
I love film. I know it well, and how it responds to the light I choose to shoot.
I'm good friends with Patagonia. It is a home from home for me, so I know I will continue to create images here as my photographic skills evolve.
I can't wait.
North East & the Central Highlands of Iceland
Beauty in Complexity
Photography may move us, and it may take us to an imaginary place in our hearts and minds, but it can’t totally replace the feeling of actually, literally being there. And that’s where this selection of images falls down for me, because the central highlands of Iceland are like no other place I know.
It has a vastness to it that’s not possible to convey because scale has always been a troublesome aspect to convey once reduced down to a small photograph. The deserts of central Iceland are so large, that it’s hard to compute distances and know how far away distant objects on the horizon really are. Try conveying that in a 2D world of reduced tonal ranges and smaller-than-life imagery, and you’ve got a lot of obstacles to overcome.
The black volcanic deserts of the central highlands reach out in every direction overcoming your visual sense with near-total blackness. In some instances, perhaps near the volcano of Hekla, you come across a depth of black to the desert, that puts all the other blacks in Iceland into perspective. Here there is not one living thing to be found - just an engulfing lack of colour. So often I find these kinds of places startling because we wish to, no, maybe we need to see colour in a landscape and when there is none, we find ourselves searching for it.
I wasn’t quite sure how to approach the editing of this work. I procrastinated for a few days because the colours weren’t working. I realised I should have shot the landscape with a more muted colour film. It does not suit the heavy saturation of Fujifilm Velvia and my edits here are the result of slowly coming to terms that I needed to desaturate to produce what I had experienced and what I wanted to convey. Somehow that blackness and muted colour palette of the central highlands was important to maintain in the final work.
I was drawn to the abstract. I’m always on the lookout for simplified shapes and tones in the landscapes I encounter, and in the case of the central highlands - this proved to be extremely challenging. The landscape does not offer up simplified compositions easily. I often felt that if I were to take a view from afar, or from the air, things may become more much easier. In fact I often wished to have a more elevated view.
But I’m not done yet. This is only a handful of the images I made over two visits this year, first visiting the Fjallabak region this July and then again in mid-September.
Adding this collection of work to my website, I’ve been struck by its complexity. My compositions over the years have become more simplified, and I think I’ve been actively seeking out landscapes that can help provide me find and use elegant shapes and tones in my photography. Although these attributes can be found in the central highlands, and in the north east of the country, they come bundled with an added complexity that has to be worked at.
This landscape’s beauty is actually in its complexity.
Monochrome in Colour
I first made images of the black sand beaches of Iceland in 2011. Since then, I've noticed that I seem to be using the colour palette of a location to provide a 'theme' for the work at hand.
I think this set of images are a continuation (or development) from my first set of images made here in 2011. They are more mono-chromatic in nature; a little bit more fine-tuned perhaps.
I seem to have become obsessed with colour as a theme to unify a body of work. And if the subject is mono-chromatic in nature, it has to be listened to, and respected in the final work. Even if I am shooting in colour.
I'm always aware of changes in my own work
I think that the stage I'm at with my work these days is of fine-tuning a style that has been in progress for 12 years or so. There is a shift, but it's subtle.
I think as photographers, or as creative people in general, we should observe, and notice these subtle shifts in our own work. It is through this process of self-awareness, that we are given clues as to where it is that we are going.
Isle of Skye 2004-12
Some parts of Scotland conjure up images and dreams more so than other parts, and in that respect, Skye is perhaps 'the no.1' location in Scotland to do that.
The Storr landscape is Lunar, Elgol is bewitched with its own mystical weather system - always providing a dramatic view across to the Cuilin mountains and then we have the Quiraing with provoking names such as 'the prison' and 'the table'.
I spent a week here in December 2010 in perhaps the coldest winter I've ever experienced and as you will see by some of the images - the snow did bring an interesting perspective to Skye's landscape.
Situated in the far north west of Scotland, Assynt is a true wilderness.
Out at Achnahaird beach, I was aware of the space around me. After being immersed in the mountainous landscapes of Inverpolly, it was a welcome reprieve to be on such an expansive beach with an endless sky.
Photographing here in winter has been a great experience for me. Sometimes too much time on my own, but I can't help feel that this is what's needed sometimes to create good images.
Just below Stac Pollaidh, I watched as the winter sun peaked above a mountain ridge and lit up some reeds in my immediate foreground.
My time in Assynt was like that. I was always on the verge, watching as the sun crept over the landscape turning shadows to light and light to shadows.
Assynt has some amazing scenery, and spending a week here doing some concentrated photography has been a real priviledge.
Winter above the Arctic Circle
Coming to Lofoten in March was like taking a step back in time. Leaving Scotland on a warm spring day, I was greeted in Lofoten with snow blizzards and incredibly beautiful winter light.
The island is quiet at this time of year. Everywhere is shut and you wonder why, as it is perhaps a very captivating landscape to experience.
Many of the images were taken whilst having to deal with sleet and rain lashing the front element of my camera's lens. I had no idea using my film camera if I was successful with my endeavours whilst there. But I like it just that way. It makes photography so much more engaging.
A new direction
For years I've always felt I had to travel long distances to see much more exotic landscapes than the ones I encounter in my homeland of Scotland.
But Lofoten has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of shooting in mainland Europe and Scandinavia during the winter months.
I feel I've only just started down a new path with the Lofoten portfolio and I know I am going to return to expand on this over the next few years.
And to think it all started with an invitation from my friend Vlad. I had no idea just where this invitation was going to lead me, and my photography.
Isle of Arran 2009
Pirates & Coves
Arran is not a 'dramatic' island like some other places I could mention, but it is a place that if you 'get' it, will reward you with some really surprising and interesting imagery.
Since I've had to start explaining how I make my images to workshop participants, I've found that I've learned a great deal about my own motivations and I understand better now, why I choose certain compositions.
I feel this has had a direct impact on me. While visiting Arran, I found that my compositions were getting more and more simplistic, minimal even. I can't explain.
The light while on the island was overcast, subdued, but as I've gone on with my photography, I've learned that this is great light to shoot in. Initially, I was just about to head back home, but I'm glad I didn't. The Island is surprising, subtle and I know I have to go back as I've only just begun to understand it.
An alien landscape full of waterfalls
Returning home from Iceland, I found the first few days quite a challenge to adjust to. Not only is the landscape quite strange, but the atmosphere of the country and laid back attitude of it’s people certainly enhanced my travel experience.
Everywhere seemed to be littered with the most impressive waterfalls and many of the places had an alien quality to them. In particular, Jökulsárgljúfur National Park could have passed for Mars. Rocks litter the desert for as far as the eye can see. The experience was intensified by a desert like heat during the hottest summer they have had on record, along with incredible red skies courtesy of a midnight sun.
Iceland contains such a variety of landscapes consisting of glaciers, waterfalls, thermal springs, lava fields and black sand deserts. Just about any geological phenomenon can be found there in abundance.
With only one highway that circles the island, most of the 280,000 inhabitants live scattered around the coast or concentrated in Reykjavík.
The centre of the island is an inhospitable wilderness that is hard to penetrate for most of the year. Only for four months does the country thaw. This is the time when vegetation grows and tourists visit. For this reason, the vegetation is protected and it's respectful to camp in designated areas.
Highlights for me were many. In each area I visited, I spent several days concentrating on photography. I found it valuable to stay in one place for a good duration so as to get to know it, and experience it under different light conditions. This added to the experience of the places I visited.
Krafla is a place containing lava fields that are as recent as the 1980's, I witnessed it during the small hours of the morning and it was fantastic to be there under exceptional lighting conditions.
Landmannalaugar, situated in the central highlands was also a highlight. The land is very strange and I was able to view it from the top of Bláhnúkur during an approaching storm.
Detifoss and Selfoss waterfalls were also incredible to view during the small hours. A mist came in one morning and it was great to see Sellfoss appear slowly as the fog dissipated.
Watching Detifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall tumble over the edge of the gorge during the small hours, as though it were doing it just for my benefit was a spectacular experience; It is often at these moments that nature in it's wildest form feels very close.
I feel as though I have made friends with Iceland. I know I will be back.