Too much noise in our lives

There has to be space, plenty of it, to enable us to be creative. There has to be lots of free time to allow us to get under the skin of a place. If there’s too much distraction in our lives, then we’re not able to give photography the attention it needs.

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Finding space is one thing, but having a settled mind with which to be creative is an entirely different thing altogether.

I think photography can be a meditative act. A space where you lose yourself. All sense of time disappears. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that often when I’m making photographs - I disappear. I am not aware of thinking any particular thoughts, or of being aware of being here.

But you can only get to this state if you feel your mind is capable of being settled. Got too much worries in your life, or too many pressures, and it’s hard, even with a lot of space - to disengage.

Decluttering one’s life is important, because by doing so, you give yourself the space to let something else in - your creativity.

For me, I’ve always needed space around me. I’m an introverted extrovert. I like being around people and I like being social, but I also recognise when I need to recharge my batteries and need time alone, space to do …. nothing …. or more precisely …. nothing much in particular, or with no agenda … is something I need more and more. Knowing I don’t have to be somewhere, knowing that the day ahead of me is free and I don’t have to stick to a plan is something that helps me a great deal.

I’m convinced this 'settled mind’ I’m seeking allows me to absorb my experiences, to digest what it is that I’ve travelled to make photographs of. When I come home from trips, I often find I need a decompression period of around two weeks. It gives me time to adjust, to think about where I’ve been and more importantly, to understand what it all means to me.

We’re not here to make only pictures. Photography shouldn’t be only an acquisitive act. It’s about how it feeds you that matters most. For example, I often find the greatest joy and satisfaction during the review of work that was created many weeks prior. Not the actual shooting.

Reliving my experiences this way, often after some time, allows me to reflect upon it, to really understand what it meant to me, and this can only happen if I have enough space, and peace of mind with which to engage with it.

The pendulum of colour

You have to go too far one way, in order to know where to dial it back. If you never go beyond your boundaries, then you’ll never know where they are.

I see changes in my photography happen slowly throughout the years I’ve been making images. I think we have several muscles that need to be exercised: our visualisation muscle, our composition muscle, our tonal muscle and also with regards to today’s post: our colour muscle.

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Learning to use Colour is something many of us don’t even know we have to do. I remember in the early years of my photography how happy I was to just have very strong colour in my images. I never gave colour much thought except ‘is it punchy enough’.

Now I see very differently and understand that some colours:

  1. May not compliment the scene

  2. May cause distraction if too dominant

  3. May cause the scene to be too busy if there is too much of it

  4. May cause the scene to be too ‘dead’ if there isn’t some form of colour in there

  5. Colour needs to be used carefully because it is a component of what we call ‘Composition’.

I think I’ve been working on my Colour-muscle for the past 4 or 5 years. Where I was once happy to just load up the photos with oversaturated colours that caused my eye to be thrown everywhere at the same time, I began a process of reduction. And further reduction, until I began to feel as if my work was just a shade away from being monochrome. I have a theory about this which I’d like to call ‘the pendulum of colour’.

The Pendulum of Colour

We have to learn where the boundaries are. Boundaries are personal: your boundaries will be different from mine. But we all have to find them. Boundaries are important because they tell us a few things:

  1. That we’ve really explored the realm

  2. That we know where the limits of acceptability are to us

  3. Most importantly, that we have found we can go much further than we thought we could.

If you don’t go beyond what you think is acceptable, then how do you know you’ve gone far enough? If you are conservative with your use of colour, tone, composition, focal lengths and stick to the same formats all the time, then you’re never really exploring what’s possible. You aren’t reaching your full potential.

So you have to go way beyond what you think is acceptable to find out where your limits of acceptability are.

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I think, for most of us, our use of colour tends to have this kind of trajectory:

  1. We begin our photography by being delighted at having strong colours in the work. Any form of strong colour is great. But we still have to learn how to use colour selectively

  2. As the years go by, we begin to tire of strong coloured photographs and begin to feel we need to find something more. We start to notice that some of the colours are displeasing and we want to reduce them, or desaturate selectively This is what I would call the first pendulum swing: we are now going the other way with our colour use.

  3. Years may pass, but we find we become more aware of colour casts, of shadows having deep hues we never saw when we began our photography. Indeed, looking back at our first attempts causes us embarrassment.

  4. We begin to tune out certain colour casts. The photos become more muted as a result.

At some point, you may feel you’ve reduced colour far too much in what you do. That’s where the 2nd pendulum swing happens. This pendulum swing is different though, for one reason: you have gained experience and understanding of colour. Although you may be re-introducing colour back into your work, you’re much more informed about where, when and just how much you need to use.

As I said at the start of this post today: “You have to go too far one way, in order to know where to dial it back. If you never go beyond your boundaries, then you’ll never know where they are.”

Your use of colour is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. You need to push it far beyond what you’re normally capable of to find out if there’s more potential for you. You also need to do this to understand where the limits are for you. Dialling it back is informative because you begin to understand that you don’t often need as much colour as you once used. When you’ve been doing this for a while you realise that you can re-introduce colour, but it works best when applied selectively and with a much more considered approach.

We change all the time. Our tastes, aesthetics are all on their own pendulum swings, but each time we revert back to something we did a while ago, we do so as a changed person. We don’t repeat: instead we become better at what we do.

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In Hokkaido

Sometimes I wish I had photos to show others where I was, and what it’s like to be there.

After reviewing the image below, I’m just sorry I never made any use of that lovely curved tree trunk to the left of the frame. I was too busy (that’s me in blue) shooting one of my favourite trees in Hokkaido during an exceptional snow storm.

Image courtesy Steve Hunter, Hokkaido tour participant

Image courtesy Steve Hunter, Hokkaido tour participant

If you only ever shoot in sunny weather, your photography will take on only one possible dimension of what beautiful planet Earth has to offer us. The more I continue with my photography, the more I am realising that images can be made in all kinds of light, and during all times of the day.

Years ago, I only ever shot at sunrise and sunset. Everything had to have a red glow about it. These days you’ll find me shooting in the middle of the day, and sometimes in sunny weather if I feel I can use it to some benefit.

But I still think that most of us pack up and go home when the weather gets tough. Yet that is when things get interesting. Just look at the diffusion of the light on the base of the trees in that photo above. I haven’t got my films back yet, but I already have anticipation of the day we went to lake kussharo and photographed in extremely stormy conditions. It was wonderful.

Symmetry, patterns, Maths

There’s high correlation between music and maths. So too, is there high correlation between photographic composition and maths. And if that is true, then there is high correlation between music and pictures. They are one and the same.

One of my passions is music. I think that when it comes down to it, I’m just attracted to patterns. Whether it’s visual patterns (such as diagonals, curves, lines, shapes etc in photography) and patterns in music.

In the video below, the presenter shows you how electronic music is created by using certain numerical patterns. I’m not expecting anyone to know what a VCF, Gate, Clock, VCA is, but if you just listen to the sound he’s creating, and realise it’s all based on maths - it’s really inspiring.

South Korea 2018

I went to South Korea in December last year for an 8-day trip. I had been invited over by my friend Kidoo whom I met through my workshops. I hope to write more about my travels there in my coming newsletter this month. In the meantime a new gallery is up on the site for you to enjoy.

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Ghostly Steel grey

This image has been sitting in my filing cabinet (I shoot transparency film) since February 2017. Volandstind is one of my favourite mountains in the Lofoten islands of Norway.

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This image was taken on a particularly windy day in Lofoten with driving rain passing through every few minutes. Making images like this one doesn’t happen on a calm day, nor does it happen on a settled dry sunny day either. But you knew that, because that’s why you come to my blog. I shoot in inclement weather mostly, and if the weather is challenging, then it’s a good indicator that you might get something of interest in your photographs. If you can get over how rotten it feels to be outside on such a day.

I remember having to set the camera up and just wait as the squalls of rain passed through. Rather than just firing the shutter, I prefer to stop and watch the elements and look. Some times the visibility increases too much and that beautiful conical shape of Volandstind was lost to too much detail. Other times the visibility would decrease so much that the mountain was hardly visible at all. It was all a case of waiting for the right level of visibility and studying the weather.

You have to become an observer of weather patterns. Understanding what sort of day it is, and whether the rain squalls are passing through and what their frequency is, is important in anticipating what will happen next.

Most of my ‘strong’ images often leave a big impression upon me at the point of capture. Because I’m a film shooter I have no preview, so I have to trust what my memory tells me. With this photo, the residual memory of it stayed with me for so long that when I dug out the transparencies today I had it first and foremost in my mind to seek out and edit.

Steel blue

You can use colour to convey a feeling. And if you reduce the colours in your pictures to just a few, then the message gets stronger / simpler.

You can use tone to help lead the eye around the frame, but it is colour for me, that conveys emotion.

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I’m not the same photographer I was 10 years ago. Where I once crammed lots of tone, texture and colour into the frame, I now do the opposite.

With early efforts, I think the high saturation, high colour, complex textures and busy compositions are similar to someone trying to convey all their points in one paragraph. As we learn to go on, we move each point to its own paragraph, to its own space where it has a chance to express itself.

I didn’t see the ‘steel blue’ when I was in Romania. It only happened during the editing and by creatively messing around.

I like to try to be as fluid as I can. ‘what happens if I turn the hue slider this way?’ and suddenly a steel blue colour leapt out of the frame. It was always present - you can’t bring something out that isn’t there, And once it was there: I knew it belonged.

Scars on land II

All landscapes have scars. It just depends if you choose to see it that way.

The word ‘scar’ may sound negative to you, conjuring up the idea that some kind of abuse has taken place. Not for me. A scar is simply the remnant of a moment, after all, even the most treasured loved objects we own, if we have them for long enough accumulate scars.

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Scars are recorded history. Marks of moments in time.

Surely, all photographers are interested in capturing a moment? We are all fascinated by the idea of freezing time. Of pressing pause, of being able to focus on one tiny moment in time.

I think that’s why I like lines, features, geological elements to the landscape. I think it’s why we all do. They are scars. They are signs of moments in time.

We’re not just into photography for pretty-picture-making. I’m sure we’re into it for something more metaphorical in nature, of having a dialog with our surroundings. Photography is a way of connecting.

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In the works

During last year’s printing workshop, I found that we got stuck in too much detail about the technology. Monitor calibration for instance, is a big topic that can consume you for days. Colour spaces were often confusing for most, and then there was the issue of rendering intent. Why do you have to choose the rendering intent in the print driver, even though it’s been set in the proofing set up? Some folks got confused between proofing settings and printing settings and couldn’t understand why they are different, and have different purposes.

Then there was the aspect of sharpening, and paper profiles. Yet another large topic that one can get lost in for days, if not years.

But it had to be covered. You need to know this stuff if you want to get good at printing.

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I’ve got to prepare some notes for this years workshop. So participatns have something to refer to when they get lost. Rather than getting stuck going over the same material, I need to crystallise the information so I can keep the workshop on track, and those that find some parts confusing have notes to refer to.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve been working on the content of this workshop for the past few months and I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that it would suit an e-book as well.

It’s a massive topic. And I felt a sense of dissatisfaction from some workshop participants - how do you learn about printing in a week? You can’t. It’s like trying to learn about composition in a week. You can’t. All you can do is point people in the right direction and try to cut out some of the crap. Cut down the chances of them going down the wrong avenues and getting lost down them for years.

So I think there is room for a stripped down information pack that cuts through a lot of the information out there, and tries to simplify it down to what you just need to know to get up and running. So that’s what I hope to do with this new e-book that is currently in development.

Stay tuned.

The lure of the road.....

I’m just home from Japan. I was there for a whole month. Sitting at home, enjoying being home, it is quickly wearing off…. there is just so much out there to go and see.

This little video is very inspiring. Surely all us photographers have wanderlust?

Art should be disposable

Being a serious photographer or serious artist is certainly something I would encourage. But you know, I think if you are passionate about photography or art, then you’re probably already there in that respect.

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Being precious about what we do is hard. It’s hard to show others our efforts, particularly if they mean a lot to us, and somehow, when we care less about the work, or feel it’s ‘throw-away, disposable stuff’, it’s much easier to be less critical of ourselves.

Creating work takes confidence. Confidence to feel happy knowing it may not be as good as we hoped. Confidence to feel happy with whatever people think of it. Confidence to take it or leave it.

A split personality is often required: one that can take or leave our work and not get too precious about it, but also at the same time care very deeply about what we do. Let me explain.

To be truly free, to be able to explore, we need to free ourselves from any chains, or self-imposed limitations or rules. That’s a pretty hard thing to do if you are trying to be serious about what you do. We start to judge our efforts often before they are complete and as I’ve said on many previous posts - that can lead to writers-block - unable to produce anything because nothing seems good enough.

Creativity is all about letting go. You can’t let go if you are bound by rules and self-imposed restrictions. And to let go, you need to either develop a sense of ‘who cares if it’s rubbish’, or get confident in what you do.

Confidence does not mean you are good at what you do. Confidence has nothing to do with it. Confidence is all about being comfortable with whatever you create, no matter how good or bad it is.

I think one way to get around any self-imposed restrictions, is to look at your photography / art as disposable. Even create it with the mind that you will destroy it.

We’re all far too precious about it. We want to keep what we create for perpetuity, but that in itself is an illusion. We don’t last forever, and nothing does. So why should our photography? Why can’t our work be a product of the time it was created in? Why can’t it just live for the time it was made in, and be gone afterwards.

If you can get used to throwing your work away, of maybe printing it, and then throwing the negative or RAW file away, I think we would set ourselves free. Free to do whatever we want because we are no longer being tied down to judging ourselves on our past work, on thinking that the work we create represents us. It represents nothing but a moment.

I sometimes think that photography or art should be disposable. If you can create it with this in mind, then I am certain that things become more free. You lose your inhibitions, judgement, and an over-riding sense of value in something that should just be a passing moment anyway.

If you are having problems creating work, then I’d suggest you go out one day to create 10 images. Work on them quickly, print them, delete the raw files, and file them away if you feel you are too judgemental on them. Forget them. Come back to them a week or so later and think about the transient nature of what you did, and more importantly, how you were able to produce something so quickly.

Good artists create. They keep moving forward. They don’t build museums to their work. They don’t stagnate. I think the way they do this, is to understand that anything they create is just a passing moment, and something not to be taken too seriously. Free yourself from your older work and you can find the space to move forward.

What would you do, if you had no undo?

I’ve written posts in the past about the act of committing to your decisions. When we create art, we have to commit to our decisions along the way: where to place the tripod, when to click the shutter and when to say when something is finished / complete. There are many stages along the way where we have to make a choice knowing we can’t go back.

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But there seems to always be a need to have an undo button with the software we use. We think that the undo button is pretty neat. Don’t like what we’ve done? We can undo it. It’s powerful. We now have more options in front of us, and that makes things more powerful, more creative, right?

Well, I don’t think so.

Having a way of being able to undo a decision is a cheap way of saying ‘I don’t have to worry about any decisions I make, and therefore, I can take them less seriously than if I knew that once they are made, I can’t go back.

What would you do if you had no undo feature with your software?

Would you be more careful with your edits? Would you think twice before you delete something? Would you find that every decision you made became quite difficult? Would you slow down? Would you find yourself torn, unsure of what to do?

Being a creative person is all about taking risks, of accepting that you may fail. Failure is good for us. Being able to be comfortable at failing when experimenting means that you open up your chances of doing something surprising. It also means you aren’t following the beaten path of the derivative.

Having no undo, means you have to stand by your decisions and learn to let go if things go wrong.

Having no undo means you are free. Because as soon as you are no longer scared to screw up, you are free to try anything you want, and to see where it goes.

Creativity cannot be controlled, perfected, done with no room for failure. Failure is part of the creative process, and having no undo button is actually a good thing. Having an undo button is actually stopping you from letting go, and from trusting yourself to give things a go because you believe in what you do.

Working your aspect ratio muscle

I’ve been saying for many years now, that certain aspect ratios are easier to work in than others. Choosing the right aspect ratio for your own aesthetic temperament will aid you in finding compositions, whereas working with a difficult aspect ratio will hamper you. The thing is, you need to find out which aspect ratios work for you.

I’m still surprised that so many buy a digital camera and don’t consider the aspect ratio it shoots in. I have always thought that 3:2 is a particularly difficult aspect ratio to work in and choosing a less panoramic format such as 4:3, 4:5 or 6:7 would be easier to help you compose in.

Anyway, the reason why I am writing this post today is to say that by choosing different aspect ratios to work in, you force your eye to move into regions of the frame that you don’t normally visit with your eye.

If we consider the 3:2 format below, I’ve marked the region where most of us tend to spend time with our eye in black. The white areas of the frame are where we spend less or no time looking in.

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I like to think of the black areas of the frame as ‘concentrated areas of experience’ with the white areas being ‘areas of little or no experience’.

If you choose to shoot in another format for a while, the different shape of the chosen aspect ratio will force your eye into areas of the frame that you wouldn’t ordinarily visit.

I found with square, my eye was visiting more of the frame, as is illustrated below

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Interestingly, I found my eye had less to travel to reach the far corners of the frame than in a 3:2 format. My ‘area of experience’ isn’t too far away from the corners of the frame.

As a result, I started to put objects at the far corners of the frame.

This isn’t something I was ever comfortable doing with 3:2 or 4:5.

After shooting square for a few years, I found that when I did return to 4:5 or 4:3, I found that all those exercises of putting things in the far corners of my square aspect ratio helped me use those corner and edge areas of the rectangle aspect ratio. As in this picture below:

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Working with different aspect ratios is a good exercise to do. Move around between them too much and perhaps you won’t learn anything as I do believe you need to settled into one or two ratios for a few months if not years. But certainly it is true for me, that by moving to a different aspect ratio for a while, has changed my photography and how I compose when I have returned to an aspect ratio I used many years ago.

Your visualisation skill is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it. If you never force your eye into the corners of your frame then I think you lose the skill to visualise compositions that can produce very dynamic work.

Square Variations

Today I feel like posting an old post. The post below was written in 2012. I feel it’s just as valid now as it was back then. Today I’ve been talking to a few people about aspect ratios. Since I wrote this piece, I’ve seen a few camera manufacturers offer more aspect ratios in their cameras, but it’s still not enough. Aspect ratios should be programmable on all contemporary cameras. It should also be implemented in a way that works without it being a bit of an afterthought (Canon, Nikon). Through the more recent introduction of mirrorless cameras, some have embraced aspect ratios (my favourite is the Fuji GFX50s which has just about every conceivable aspect ratio available, and it can be programmed as a dedicated button on the body).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this article about me shooting images in Scotland.

Enjoy, Bruce.

April 2012

This past weekend, I was in Torridon conducting a weekend workshop. We had some very rainy weather, and one of the group - Steve - mentioned to me that he was glad the weather had been bad, as it gave him a chance to see he could actually make some good images despite the weather.

Top right

Top right

I often feel, that the reason why Scotland is so photogenic, is because of the changes in the weather. One minute it's misty, the next it's clear. And fog or low cloud levels can be a great way of making simpler images. Take the shot above for instance. This is Loch Maree. Normally, this group of trees have the massive Slioch mountain dominating the background. But with a bit of rain and poor visibility, Slioch was invisible. We were left with no horizon - nothing to give the shot context.

I loved the group of three or four trees clumped together. They were actually a subset of a larger group of trees, but I felt that we could easily 'remove' the rest and keep the entire shot very simple if we just had this small gathering of trees.

Variations

Variations

I made this shot on my little Lumix GF1. It's a great camera because it has interchangeable aspect ratios. I felt that square worked really well for this shot, as I could easily place the trees in three quadrants of the frame - top right, bottom right and middle right, as you can see in the above triptych. Question is, is one better than the other? And I like to consider that there is always more options than just one. So I guess the answer is 'it depends'. My personal favourite composition out of the three images is the first one. I feel the picture has a more 'uplifting' feeling than the rest, and it has more presence, because I'm really exaggerating the empty space in the frame more than the others. I also love the reflection of the trees.... I feel they have space below them to 'breathe'.

The middle composition, where the trees are placed in the bottom right, is perhaps less engaging for me, because the trees aren't so tight against the bottom of the frame. The picture feels less focussed for me, in terms of composition. I'd liked to have moved the trees even further down the frame, but I felt the reflections would not have enough space. I felt I had to keep moving the trees further up the frame. But it's a more relaxed composition than the first one - which I feel is more 'graphic' than being a photograph.

The far right composition is perhaps my less favourite. It is more of a 'standard' composition. I feel the horizon has been carelessly composed - for my taste. It's just a little below centre, and I think it might have benefited from being slightly above centre - giving that 'uplifting' feeling I was talking about in the first image, while at the same time, being more in-line with a 'standard' landscape image.

As much as I love square, maybe it might have suited more a 4x5 aspect ration as seen above?

4x5 crop

4x5 crop

Ultimately, when you have a simple subject such as this - trees and reflection, and nothing else, it's much easier to get down to the basic tasks of composition and placement in a frame. The less objects you have in the frame - the better, I feel.

I was immediately attracted to this scene when we were driving past, because there's little in there to distract. When was the last time you went out with your camera to shoot when the atmospheric pressure is so low, that almost nothing is visible?

Article in outdoor photography magazine

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I have a featured article in this month’s edition of the UK magazine ‘Outdoor Photography’, including a nice cover image of one of my images.

The article is all about working with winter scapes and understanding dynamic-range and how the human eye is unable to see absolute luminance.

Nuggets

We’re only here for a short while. And we all want to spend our time wisely. So the question we should all ask ourselves is this:

Q. do we cover as many places as we can, or do we focus our efforts on a few places and try to get to know them as best as we can?

This essentially boils down to these two options:

  1. Spread ourselves thinly and visit as many different locations as we can, and hope that the work we create during our brief time there will have depth to it.

  2. Concentrate ourselves to a few locations and focus on trying to build up a portfolio of work over a number of years of these places. The sacrifice is that you see a lot less of the world than you would if you chose option 1.

If there is an answer to this, then it’s maybe a bit of both options above. And something else: your drive. Although we may try to be logical and objective about what we should do, the truth is, we should respond to where we want to go from an emotional level. If you feel a pull to go back to a certain place again and again, then you should entertain it. Don’t thrown out a location simply because you’ve been only once. Repeat visits will give depth to your work and help you gain an understanding of a place that isn’t possible in one visit.

It really depends what kind of photographer you are. If self-development isn’t that important to you and you just enjoy being there and visiting / touring the world, then I think repeat visits aren’t of much interest for you. But if you are, like me, someone who wants to try to create work that is beyond the obvious, that is less derivative, then you have to find a few places that you can concentrate on and use as ongoing-projects.

I have learned so much from repeating places. I have also seen these places define my style. That’s something that I think is often overlooked: the kinds of landscapes you choose to photograph contribute to your style. Similarly, if you are going to certain kinds of landscapes, you should, after a while, see relationships between them. Common themes or aspects to them that will help you find out who you are as a photographer.

I’m not so interested in capturing ‘nuggets’ of work. Having 2 nice photos from one place, and 30 average shots doesn’t work for me. I’ve learned that it’s very hard to create outstanding work of a landscape in one shoot, one visit. A ten day trip to a location out of an entire lifetime is but a fleeting view of a place. Not a problem if you just enjoyed your time there and didn’t have any aspirations to create great work, but if you do, then you have to make that location a feature of your photographic-life and keep returning. It’s the only way to delve deeper, and to build up a strong set of images. That’s what I do.

On being grounded

I can’t stress how important it is, to find a place to call home, and to be grounded there every once in a while.

For the past ten years I have been living a nomadic life of sorts. I’m actually only really away for about 1/3rd of the year from my home, but it doesn’t feel like it, because there is always an adaption period - a settling-in time of around two weeks once I return from some extended travelling before I fully feel at home.

I know that for many of you, the idea of travelling around the world all the time must seem like a dream come true. It sure beats doing the usual 9-5 and the routine of living in the same place month in month out, year in, year out. I once too, like you, romanticised about being free from the 9-5 job so I could go travelling.

But what I had not envisaged at the time of those dreams was the dislocation that comes with it.

I feel as though I have two lives: one on the road, and one at home. Like a split personality, each one of these lives takes a week or so to settle into, and when the trips are very elongated the adjustment gets so entrenched that it makes returning home a very hard adjustment. This is why I now prefer to travel for short durations - a week to maybe 9 days at the most is all I can really handle, as it prevents me from going full-adjustment. It’s short enough that I can still hold on to who I am when I’m at home. I will add, that this means I am usually travelling with half of my head and heart still grounded in my home-life. It’s important for me not to lose sight of it.

I can’t stress how important it is to feel grounded. We all have to have a place that we can call home. It’s a tug of war, because all photographers are wanderlust, nomads at heart. We desire to be away when we are at home, and desire to be at home when we are away. It’s a constant sea of adaption and one which I am always trying to find balance in.

The thing is: I LOVE photography. It is something that burns deep inside of me. I can’t let it go and I know that the images I create mean a lot to me in a way that I simply cannot convey to others. That is what drives me forward all the time, despite my reservations about all the travel I do. But I am always seeking an inner balance. A place where I can feel settled within myself, and at the same time, still go adventuring. I think that the truth is: some people like me, just never really get there. It’s part of the parcel of what makes me do what I do.

With that all in mind, I wish you good balance in your creative and working lives. As my great grandmother used to say ‘everything in moderation’. And as a friend of mine added ‘including moderation’ :-) Live your dreams but remember to touch down once in a while. It’s good for you :-)

Metaphor

Metaphor - ‘to transfer’

Isn’t photography all about metaphor? The simple fact is that an image, a collection of abstract shapes and tones are used to represent something else.

Photography is not literal, we do not photograph what is there, but instead photograph what it means to us. Photography is interpretive, from the moment we feel or see something to how it is viewed, everything about it is metaphorical.

Askja, Central highlands of Iceland, Sept 2018

I don’t shoot the black deserts of the central highlands of Iceland to document them. I’m not bothered about the historical or ecological aspects of my subjects. In fact my subjects are never really the point of my photos. It’s the interpretation that is the point, because the interpretation is all about a point of view. That’s what photography is all about.

All of us, each and every one of us who are keen photographers take images not because of what the subjects look like, but because of what they mean to us. What we saw in them, and why we saw what we saw. Making images is about conveying to everyone else ‘this is how I see the world’, and has little to do with the actual subject at hand.

Thinking about my interpretations, you may then wonder ‘why does Bruce shoot black deserts?‘ Ah, well therein lies the real question. I can only answer it by saying that I love mystery. I find vast, black empty spaces deeply enigmatic. For some reason, I’m only interested in photographing a place if there is some kind of atmosphere or mystery about it. Something that is undefined, hard to grasp. You could argue that I’m a romantic at heart, and that is why I go to these minimalist, abstract landscapes.

In previous blog entries I’ve coverer the idea that minimal landscapes aren’t really minimal. The human mind can’t accept ‘empty’ images. Our visual system goes into over-drive to convince us that there must be something there, even though there isn’t. I like this. I love that my brain can’t accept an empty canvas and wishes to see more than what is presented. It allows you to conjure up in your own mind what you ‘think’ is there.

I think all landscapes have multiple layers and a good, maybe great photographer, is one who is able to dig below the obvious, below the surface of the literal, and show us metaphor.

Golden years

Some of the most defining, important periods of our lives are seldom recognised as such at the time they are happening to us.

The same can be said about our photography.

Fjallabak-Sept-2018-(2).jpg

I have found some of my images to take on a life of their own, that I had not envisaged once I’d completed work on them. They have become placeholders for personal memories of special times in my life.

Perhaps it’s because 2018 is now closing, and a new year is rapidly coming towards me, that I am so reflective.

Our photographs may be enjoyed by others, but they never have the same personal meaning to others as they do to us. They are highly personal documents and rightly so.

I’ve been thinking that as I continue to go on with my photography, that I may look back at my body of work in a few decades from now, and think ´those were the golden years´. After all, each artist has many different periods of creativity throughout their lives.

Regardless of the quality of the work, perhaps each year is a golden year anyway? After all, we make special memories all the time. Experiences are, after all the only thing we’ve really got.

We are our experiences.

With that in mind, I wish you great image / memory making in 2019. Treasure it while it is happening, because all of our experiences are rare: they only happen once, and seldom do they happen again.

All the very best for 2019.

Themes and variations upon themes

I believe that photographic work becomes stronger if there is a concept behind it. Concepts can be whatever you want them to be. There are no rules. There shouldn’t be.

I have a dear friend from Massachusetts who tells me ‘You know Bruce, you seem to be able to go anywhere in the world and take the same photograph’. He is of-course right. But I do hope it was intended as a compliment as I think it is. I think what Steve was telling me was ‘you have a style’.

But there is more to this than meets the eye. I do like to focus on certain concepts or themes, and it is not unusual for me to shoot the same scene in numerous variations. I even publish these variations in the same collection. Which leads me to another interesting comment I sometimes hear from viewers : ‘what is different between these two shots?’. The answer should be plainly obvious to us photographers: they are compositional variations. Rather than just picking one to publish, I sometimes can’t decide, as I feel each variation has something to say its partners do not.

Repeating themes in the work also makes the work thematically stronger. The work becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

But the trick I feel, or the talent in working with themes, is in finding them to begin with. It takes a rare eye to be able to see a theme in something that others may pass over as mundane, or in the case of some of my more recent Iceland images, landscapes that look quite close to being man-made quarries.

Themes can also go beyond a body of work, and leak into adjacent projects. You may find over time, that you have a propensity to steer towards certain subjects, or tonal responses. Again the trick, or ‘talent’, is in recognising this in yourself and your own work.

I feel that all too often photographers don’t ask themselves ‘why’, or ‘how did I create this?’, or ‘why did I create it?’. Too many of us are just busy making pictures without joining the dots, without recognising themes or variations in what we do.

We are missing clues that can help drive us forward in what we do.