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.
My previous visits to Patagonia yielded monochromatic, often dark toned imagery. I felt at the time this really summed up my view of this landscape.
Seems I may have been too quick to judge as this year I found myself confronted with a softer, lighter view of the place.
But I think this new lighter imagery came about because of what I'd learned during my recent trip to Hokkaido. It was there that I finally felt I came to terms with lighter tones in my work.
Since visiting Hokkaido in December 2015, I feel my images have been moving towards the higher registers of luminosity. Rather than focussing on the dark tones and 'drama', I now feel I've found a few more octaves of light to play with. I feel I'm in new territory.
In this new work, there is a mixture of dark tones and sometimes light, airy tones. The skill, I believe, is to marry them so they feel part of the same set.
I'm so fortunate to return to Patagonia on a yearly basis. I feel as though this landscape often sets me new challenges, new homework, something to help my photography grow in some way.
Upper tones and new awareness
I’ve been playing with the upper registers of tone lately. It’s been a progressional thing for me. I started out years ago with contrasty dark images, but some places just don’t suit that kind of treatment. The Atacama of Chile and the Altiplano of Bolivia are two such places.
I call them collectively the Altiplano as it’s a place that is void of borders for me; in my dreams and in my mind I only see one landscape.
This year was an El Niño year. It wasn’t by far the best year for those vibrant tones I often see at high elevation each sunrise and sunset. But there’s a danger in comparing a visit to a previous one and not running with what you’ve got. This year’s images seem to convey a different quality of light in that respect, and I can’t help think it’s because I’ve chosen to go with what the landscape offered me, than try to get it to submit to any pre-conceived ideas I may have had.
The Altiplano has been a love-affair for me since 2009. I visit the same places each year but I still feel I’m learning and growing. This landscape has taught me so much in terms of simplicity, but also in terms of listening to what it wants to say, and letting it dictate to me rather than me dictate to it. Because of this, it is a surprising place in more ways than I can convey.
Puna de Atacama 2015
The Puna de Atacama or Atacama Plateau is an arid high plateau in the Andes of Argentina. The term "Puna" (Quechua) means "Moor" or "Cool Earth".
I first came to know about it though a chance encounter in my dentist's waiting room about a year ago. A travel magazine featuring pictures of what I initially thought was either the Chilean or Bolivian Atacama grabbed my attention. So familiar was the landscape that I assumed I must know of it. But I had never been here nor heard of it until this very moment.
One picture in particular drew me in. In a double-page spread, I found myself staring at the oddest looking conical shaped mountain I’d ever seen. Cono de Arita rises 122 meters above the Salar de Arizaro, the sixth largest salt flat on earth. It is also quite a distance from the nearest village of Tolar Grande which is 70km away.
Cono de Arita is an arresting object to experience. The way the tones of its dark pyramid shape contrast with the surrounding salt flat is quite startling. From the moment I saw that first picture of it, I knew I had to come and visit.
All the images in this portfolio were made during a six day tour. Just myself and my guide Pancho in his little 4WD pickup truck. He had water canisters in the back and a collection of Argentine music in the cab.
We spoke of many things during our drive across the plateau - he of Argentine culture, the geology of the landscape and most importantly, of his love for his beautiful little daughter. I spoke of what it's like to be Scottish and my love for the high plateau landscapes of the Andes.
At each moment of our many conversations, we remained the only static things in the landscape while outside, the terrain was always changing. Sometimes the transition would be instantaneous, other times we would spend many hours with the landscape not changing at all.
For instance, the journey out to the Cono de Arita for sunrise, a mere 70km away from the town we slept in, seemed to last forever. Despite seeing the volcano for well over an hour from the front seat of Pancho's 4WD, we seemed to get no closer to it. Such is the optical illusion of driving over a large salt flat: things far away appear to be deceptively close.
But what I discovered in the Puna was much more than the tantalising shape of cono de Arita. The Campo de Piedra Poméz (pumice stone field) for instance, is a massive area littered with pumice rock as big as boats and shaped just like them. Each rock faces the same way, with their sharply defined bows pointing towards some imaginary destination, ready to sail.
I ran out of time. Six days isn’t really nearly enough time to do the Puna justice. The distances were great, and due to frustration of not knowing the places well, I missed an awful lot. I often felt I turned up at places that would be great during sunrise, but I was there for sunset.
Like I always say to people who ask me how I find out about where to shoot:
"I often go at least twice, the first time to find out what it is I should photograph, the second time to go and photograph it. And if I really fall in love with the place, I keep going back to delve beneath the obvious".
I am already hatching plans to do just that.
Easter Island 2016
There are landscapes that we find challenging and hard, yet we find ourselves returning. It is as if we know there is something there, something worth shooting. It's just that we're not sure what's missing inside of ourselves to allow us to capture what we're feeling.
For me, Easter Island is just like that.
There's a starkness to this place. Black volcanic rubble litters the landscape and often times the light during the day is so harsh it seems that I'll never find the soft tones that I'm seeking in my photography. The light for me, is so different that I really can't make my mind up how best to approach it, so much so, that I've tried going back in different seasons to see if the light is more workable.
This June was perhaps the most successful trip I've had there to date, because it was also the most cloudy. With occasional overcast days that allowed me to shoot the statues and landscape with softer tones, I was happy. But I couldn't shake the feeling that I was still very much in my own comfort zone, willing the landscape to conform to me, and not me to it.
It's been thirteen years since I first visited the island. During that time I've been to many places that have resonated with me, where I feel I was able to grow and produce good work. I've also built up a lot of shooting hours now, so I had high hopes that if I returned to Easter Island now, I may be able to work with it.
This turned out to be only partly true. What I did discover was just how much I've changed since that first trip in 2003. I found myself reflecting a lot on what my level of ability was back then from a technical stand point, but I was more interested to discover that I was really looking for very different things now. I felt as if someone had peeled back a curtain to show me more than I'd been able to comprehend on my first visit.
It was enlightening in more ways than I could have imagined.
Being able to look back at where I'd come from was one thing. But because I was in a landscape that conjured up memories and feelings of who I was back in 2003, I couldn't help feel very reflective about my life. So much time had passed, and rather than being someone in is mid-30's, I was now someone fast approaching 50. I couldn't help look within.
I've often attributed photography to being another way for me to meditate. When I am out there making photos, I become invisible to myself. Time disappears, and the present moment often becomes the only thing occupying my mind.
I am here. Nothing else matters. The past and the future don't even enter into my mind. But sometimes, just sometimes, when I visit certain landscapes they seem to act as a mirror, a time to reflect upon who I am, where I've been and what life has meant to me so far. Other times they ask me questions about where I'm going and what the future may hold.
The landscapes we get to know hold many memories for us. They record imprints of who we were and what we were thinking during our past visits, and they remind us of these each time we return. It's a beautiful and special relationship, and I am often reminded that we're not simply here to make great captures; we're also here because of what this exchange does for us on a more intimate and personal level.
I guess that's why I keep returning to Easter Island. It is a landscape that asks lots of questions through the history I have with it.
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) 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.