Gestation Period

I'm publishing a new book this September which has had a long gestation period.

If I had been less experienced in my creative efforts I may have given up on this project many times: it's often hard to know when something is paused (stopped temporarily) or has reached a point where things can't go any further.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia Image © Bruce Percy 2012

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Image © Bruce Percy 2012

I'm more and more of the opinion that you can't rush things. Everything has its own time and place, and everything has its own non-linear pace. Feelings of great satisfaction as well as great uncertainty tend to mix and merge as we navigate through the ebb and flow of our creativity. Being a creative person is often more about reading and understanding when flow is working and when it isn't. 

pre-book-announcement.jpg

Pauses in our creativity can at first appear to be difficult times. No one, no matter how talented or creative they are suffers from periods of feeling stuck. I have often found with hindsight that these periods of inactivity are usually rests where a new direction is about to take place, or some new work is about to be created, and when I find that I can't go any further, I just let things be for a while and do something else to take my mind of it.

Altiplano was like that. This book has been in my mind since around 2012. I first mentioned the title of it to some friends long before I knew I had enough material to complete it. Had anyone asked me how the final product would look, I couldn't have guessed correctly: I just had to trust that future work would let the seed of this idea grow into something more concrete.

There were delays along the way. Many of them, in many different forms. Around 2015 I had reached a point where I felt I could add nothing new to the work. I had been to Bolivia many times and felt that my image making there was becoming cyclical : I was now settling into certain formulas with some of the locations I had been growing into over the years, and I was beginning to feel I was reaching a natural conclusion with this landscape. Then, without warning the image on the front cover of a travel magazine I noticed while waiting in my dentist's office found me looking at Argentina as a continuation of the project. The Puna de Atacama had sufficiently different landscapes that its Bolivian cousin to work on and all of a sudden the book was no longer finished, and I knew I had a few more years yet to work on it.

Then there were schedule problems. My workshops and tours are set up 1 year and sometimes 2 years in advance. Trying to find time within my working life to get out to Bolivia or Argentina to complete what I saw in my mind's eye was difficult.

Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama, Argentina Image © Bruce Percy 2017

Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama, Argentina
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

And one mustn't forget that making a book is a slow process: as soon as you have other people involved in the project, things just slow down. Waiting to hear back from printers, waiting for your graphic artist friend to find time in his own schedule to work on the book meant that things started to become drawn out. The book was commenced in full last year, and then I had to shelve it for about six months. Then we re-commenced with it this January and all the text was mostly completed by March. Translations were required as the book is also in Spanish and that added further time to the project. And while all this was going on, we were finding that we were changing the format and concept of the book. I don't think Darren and I have changed our minds or reviewed a book so many times in the past six months.

The Labyrinth, Puna de Atacama, Argentina Image © Bruce Percy 2017

The Labyrinth, Puna de Atacama, Argentina
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

Some things just take time. There has to be a way of pushing forward while at the same time not over-stressing it. Things need to be helped, but they shouldn't be rushed. Everything has its own rhythm, its own way of evolving and our task as creative people is to work 'with the natural flow' rather than against it. Force something to be finished when it's not ready to be and the work suffers. Don't put any effort into it and the project stalls. Finding the balance is a skill in intuition. Knowing when to pause and wait for an answer, and knowing when to push forward is key.

If the work is good, then you should persist (not give up), and if obstacles are in your way, just choose to look at them as pauses: they are often there for a reason. Keep thinking about where you want your work to go, and this will help you steer your creativity in the right direction. My 'Altiplano' book wasn't an effortless task, it had many delays and obstacles along the way, but it is here now, it is real, and that just gives me the confidence to understand that sometimes, when I think things are stuck or going nowhere, it is just a brief pause in the birth of my ideas.

Collating

Today I've been collating my images from Iceland and Japan, with the thoughts of putting together two future book projects. I've been struck by just how much work I've done over the past three years in each location, but also, how much is still incomplete in the sense of producing a book on each subject.

Playing around with sequencing of my central Iceland photographs.

Visualisation is key in propelling me forward with what I do.  

By collating the work and laying it out in a visual sequence i'm able to build an emotional connection to how I see the work panning out as it continues to be supplemented with new work. This can be very inspiring for me, and I often find myself dreaming up some additional images in my minds eye.

This aspect of visualisation is usually down to 'lost opportunities' - those 'photographs that never were', as you spied them while passing by some place, or because the weather changed and you failed to make them on time. They leave an indelible mark on your imagination that trigger strong feelings of 'I must return here, as I know I am not finished with this location yet'.

As a result of all this visualisation and dreaming of expanding the work, there have been for the past few years, ongoing discussions with my Icelandic and Japanese guides as to new places I wish to research and photograph. Everything is a work in progress. This is all good stuff as it gives me purpose: I can see that there are still unfinished ties to each of the locations I've already made photographs in.

What is most exciting for me, is that I am acutely aware that I often underestimate how much new work will come out of further explorations. New work often enriches existing work by allowing it to take on a new identity. Sometimes I feel the work is one thing only to find out that once I'm done adding new work to it, that it has become something different entirely. And I find that just very inspiring.

Collating one's own work is a great way of figuring out what you've achieved, and where there are missing gaps in the work, and which direction you need to take it.

Playing around with sequencing of my Hokkaido photographs.

You've gotta hand-craft it

Many years ago, before my current occupation as a photographer, I used to be a budding musician with lots of nice synths at home to play with. This was the 90's and an era where most synths turned up with lots of nice sexy factory presets to play with. Indeed one of the issues with 90's synths was that they only usually had one slider on the front of the panel and thus were a nightmare to edit the sounds, so most people would tend to use the factory presets with almost no changes to them at all.

This past month I have returned to music and I'm presently busy building a little home studio of some nice synths to own. I've deliberately chosen to look for machines that have lots of knobs and sliders on the front panel so that they will encourage me to shape the sound to my liking, rather than hope or rely on some preset to work in the music I'm making.

You may wonder what this has to do with photography. Well quite a lot.

I don't believe that plug-in's that offer presets to work with are a good way to start, or to continue with for the long-run. I can sympathise and appreciate that they may feel like a really great way of kick-starting your editing, or that they perhaps influence or inspire you, but the chances of them actually being exactly what your images need is pretty slim.

I've reached the conclusion that the best approach to image editing is to hand-craft it. Here's my reasons why I think it's good to go the slow manual way:

  1. You are given the opportunity (through having to figure out what you want to do to an image) to learn what components of tone, colour and form your image is made up from.
  2. You learn a lot about what works and what doesn't when you have to go in there and deconstruct  your image. Presets don't encourage this.
  3. Presets will rarely, if ever, give you exactly what you need and they will not encourage you to look or study deeply into what is going on in your work.
  4. Hand-crafting your work means that you build up skills to interpret what you've created, and also to think about what you might want to look for in future when you do return to shooting outside.
  5. It should go without saying, but each image you create does not conform to a preset. It has its own character and therefore needs to be treated on an individual basis.
  6. Photography is about being creative, and convenience should not be part of the creative vocabulary. Making good or great images isn't easy, and we have to put the work in to learn.
  7. Perhaps the most important point - you get to tune the image exactly the way you want.

Perhaps you think that presets are a great starting point, and that you still tune and edit manually anyway. My thoughts on this are that when we apply presets to our work, we only see or understand a little of what has been changed. if you wish to iron out some of the effect it's a little bit like going 10 steps forward to have to retreat 8 steps to get to where you want to be. I'd much rather walk each step at a time and build up a good understanding of what it is i'm doing with the edit at each stage.

I used to rely on presets for synth sounds in my music and often found it hard to get certain sounds to mix in well with others. Now that I have a collection of synths at home with tweak able parameters I can shape the sounds to fit in more. It brings me confidence when I hear certain sounds just shift into focus as they are tuned to fit into the music. Rather than flipping through thousands of presets hoping for the 'right sound' I am creating it myself.

By taking the reigns of your editing and pulling the decisions and control back into your own lap, you are giving yourself the opportunity to learn about your yourself, your work and to improve your own visual awareness. As tempting as certain presets may be, I'd suggest going the manual way for a while and see how it goes.

All my work, is homework

Every image I create, whether I think it's good or bad, contributes to my photographic education. For this very reason I never think that any of my work is a failure: it all contributes in some way.

No matter how good someone thinks they are - the truth is that we are all in photography-school. We will always be learning. Even those we consider masters of the art of photography know this. Indeed, they welcome it. Because they understand that if they are no longer learning then they are no longer growing. And no growth means their art is dead.

The good artist knows that he is always learning, and will always have much to learn. He also knows that creating art isn't about success, it's about the creative journey. There is no room for words like failure or success, it is just a process that they have to do.

I feel a lot of contemporary photographers look for solutions in their tools when they really need to work on themselves more. I'd rather find something that works from the outset, than something that sort-of-works but needs to be worked on later. It's much easier to play with something if it's a great idea than to try to make something out of a poor idea. Looking for solutions in software or technical forums isn't going to help you improve. You need to do the work.

Hokkaido-2018-(29).jpg

Weak ideas will never work, no matter how much technology or software is applied to them. If an image has a strong idea behind it, it will be carried along by that. It needs no one's help.

You have to fail in order to learn. You have to get used to accepting that the majority of what you create isn't any good. Look upon it as 'prototypes'. Until we get to where we wanted to go with a piece of work, everything we create on the road to getting it right is a prototype. Not a failure. 

You have to understand that creating bad work is part of the process. And also to understand that even very gifted artists have to create a lot of rubbish in order to find the good stuff. If it was easy to create good work, everyone would be doing it.

Put the work in.Accept that the road will be a long one, but it will be a growing time while you're on it.

I'm very aware that all of my work to date has taken me to the point where I am now. I couldn't have got here without putting all the work in that has led me here. Everything I've done, every bad photo I've made and every successful one has taught me something, and has contributed to me being who I am now. This work has shown me that it's never the tools I need to improve, or the software I need to change. It is my application of them, my skill and experience that needs to grow.

So with that in mind, I'm very aware that all of my work, is homework. Everything I do educates me, and every apparent failure is a valuable lesson, so long as I choose to listen to what it's trying to tell me.

Our work is never finished. Every image we create, whether we think it's good or bad, contributes to our photographic education and our artistic growth, and I think we should revel in the discoveries and surprises of our chosen art form.

The value of anonymous places

Photographs are much more intriguing if we aren't told anything about them.

No words, and no titles.

Intriguing images have the capability to cast a spell upon us, and the beauty of that spell is that it's a highly personal one. Through a lack of explanation, each and every one of us attaches our own personal thoughts and feelings about what we are looking at.

Myself in the landscape. Image © Dorin Bofan. Image used by kind permission.

Myself in the landscape. Image © Dorin Bofan. Image used by kind permission.

Conversely, being told exactly what the picture is, or what we should get out of it robs us of being able to attach our own emotions and thoughts.

I remember looking at some of Paul Wakefield's wonderful landscape images on his website. There were no titles, nothing to give away where the images had been made. I thought I recognised one of them as a place I frequently visit but there was something new about it, a different perspective that made me think again. So I emailed him to ask if it was where I thought it was, only to get the reply "don't you think an image is more compelling when you aren't sure where it is?".

I agree.

Not only are they more compelling, they are also free to be whatever you wish them to be.

When Paul finally published a book of his images several years later, there was a page at the back of the book that told me where the locations of each image were. By this time I had become so familiar with Paul's beautiful images that I had attached my own impressions to his images, so much so, that finding out that they weren't where I thought they were - meant that my attachment fell into question and I found myself having to revise my thoughts about them.

It was more beautiful when I hadn't known, when I was free to create my own ideas and impressions of where his images were from.

We attach so much to an image upon first viewing, and as we go back to our favourite images we keep reinforcing our own emotions into them. We make up dreams and ideas about images that we love, the same way we make up dreams and ideas about songs we love. This is why I have never enjoyed watching music videos because they often force me to discard my own personal interpretation of a song and instead force me to take up the view of the video. 

Describing, or giving emotive titles to images gives less freedom to the viewer to take up their own view. But what about images of anonymous places? Do they hold similar appeal?

I think they do.

Rather than shooting the iconic well known place that everyone knows of, we are left to wonder - 'I don't really know for sure but there are aspects about the picture which make me think it could be Scotland, but then again, there are other aspects that make me think it could be Norway'...... Anonymous places have so much power to bewitch us.

Don't you think this makes the images more compelling?

Special thanks to Dorin Bofan (a fantastic photographer in his own right) for the kind use of the image of me in the landscape photographing a rather snowy, frozen tree, and to Florin Patras for putting together the trip where this photo was made.

More later, once I get my films back from the lab!

Inspiration through animation

One of the things I really enjoy, and get a lot of inspiration from is beautiful cinematography. I think I have become a bit of a film-fanatic of recent years.

I like to seek out films that are beautiful to look at (and have a good story of course) and The Red Turtle by Studio GHIBLI is one such movie.

As a photographer, I'm attracted to the tones in the scenery I shoot, and the movements of the sky and sea. This movie has a very beautiful look to the skies in particular: they seem to have lots of moving grain, as if it was captured on film, or perhaps the look is to simulate the use of pencil?Whatever the reason for the aesthetic, I found it such an engagingly beautiful looking movie.  The story was also excellent.

I've been thinking lately, that I very seldom get inspired by looking on the web at photographs now. We are living in an age of photography-overload. I don't like to treat photography as something to be consumed, or flicked through, instead I wish to be immersed, engaged. This is so hard to do when there is so much work out there.

But watching a beautifully animated movie for a few hours forces me to slow down, to get immersed. It is a medium that can't be consumed lightly.

The Red Turtle reminds me why I take pictures. I wish to be captivated, drawn into another world and engaged. I've often thought that if I can feel that way about my own work, then hopefully I can make others feel that way about what I do also.

Thoughts on approaching a location

Sometimes you find a location that is so sweet, you know as you approach it, that it's going to work.

The above image was just exactly like that for me.

Below is a 'contextual' image showing me approaching these trees. I'd seen this location from a far distance, and felt that a telephoto would not be sufficient to work around parallax issues with the trees.

Before I'd even set foot outside of the car, I could already see the potential in my mind's-eye - I had already begun to visualise and dream how the final images might turn out!  

But sometimes as I approach a landscape, it turns into something entirely different. I am pleased to say in this circumstance it held up to what I was visualising in my mind.

Context shot, showing me on location in Hokkaido.  Image shot by my Hokkaido guide, January 2017

Context shot, showing me on location in Hokkaido. 
Image shot by my Hokkaido guide, January 2017

Although I love to edit my work and will often depart radically from what was there by using dodging and burning techniques, the final images you see here are pretty much verbatim. The only difference between the photograph of me on location, and my final images is that the sky clouded over once I got into the location, so there was more of a marriage between land and sky. 

My only on-site decisions were more about placement - of where I should be standing to get different vantage points of the trees, and to be observant to any patterns that the trees made (see central image of the three trees at perfect placement to one another). Further, it was also paramount that I remove the background hedge from the shot at all costs, so I spent a bit of time looking for vantage points where the hedge would disappear from view.

I'd like to finish today's post by stating that often as a photographer i'm tempted to go closer towards the subjects I wish to photograph. Whether it's the edge of a lake or the edge of a cliff. This can sometimes be a real failing because of two points:

1) If you like your subject from where you are standing, then chances are it's not going to look the same once you get closer. So shoot it from where you've noticed it, before moving in. Practice using different focal lengths such as telephoto view to accomplish this.

2) As you approach a location you like, the elements start to move around and sometimes things get lost or hidden from view. See point 1.

Your journey can sometimes become an exercise in 'chasing rainbows'. You think that by getting in close, the composition will get stronger, but as you do approach, the scene falls apart and the subjects do not hold together in the way you first saw them. Often times, it's because the best vantage point was from where you started.

I'm glad to report that although I was worried that the big hike into this location,  on snowshoes might have resulted in the trees becoming obstructed by hills, or by my being too low to photograph the trees straight on, the location worked beautifully.

I knew it at the time things were going well. As I slowly made my way forward, the trees and the compositions I had in my mind's eye remained in place. But I did keep an eye on how the compositions were changing as I approached.

I'm a great believer that when something is working well, whether it be in my photography or in my life, it tends to flow and come together easily. That's exactly how these images happened. It was as if they fell into my lap.

I didn't capture the landscape, it captured me

Thoughts on impermanence

While I've been on the Norwegian island of Senja, I have been thinking a lot about the snowy weather and the wild mountain peaks that surround me.

These mountains have been here for a very long time. They have stood, facing the elements for a duration that I can only begin to imagine, let alone comprehend, and comparatively speaking, I have only been here for the shortest moment of their existence.

Coastal scene, Island of Senja, Norway

Coastal scene, Island of Senja, Norway

This has made me consider my own ideas about permanence, and that I have a tendency to relate to the landscape 'within my own timeline' and  think of it as being part of my story, when in fact I am a tiny part of its story.

The landscape has seen more than I will ever do, it has witnessed and been part of land reforming over many millennia. To think that my images may convey this landscape and 'capture' it is quite a ridiculous notion because the landscape is more powerful and permanent than anything I will ever do, or achieve. The mountains I have walked over and  the rivers I have crossed are a reminder of my own impermanence. It's a humbling thought.

It raises the question about the importance of my photographs and the illusion that my images have some form of permanence: my photographs are just as transient as I am. If I am lucky at best, my images will continue to exist for a little while longer once I am gone.

This has made me wonder if I place too much importance upon my work. I feel that I may have my views on my own work out of proportion to the bigger picture since it is the landscape that has more of a right to permanence than any photograph I will ever create.  

I do not 'capture' the landscape. Instead, it is the landscape that captures me.

The lens points both ways

A good friend of mine just recently said to me 'the lens points both ways' when talking about her work. She was referring to the belief (which I also believe) that photographs tell a lot about the photographer behind their creation.

Indeed, sometimes I meet very talented people who have a good work discipline: they begin things and often keep going to see the work through to completion. I have also met people are are extremely talented, who never finish anything.

And also, I have met people who may not be as talented as the two types of people I refer to above, but they have a strong sense of 'following through' with anything they start. 

This has led me to believe one thing: that being talented isn't enough. There has to be a strong work ethic to pull through and complete what you do and to keep moving forward. Good photography is a combination of ability as well as effort. 

But there also has to be a sense of balance. Working too much and too hard will only cause burn out. Procrastination may be our enemy 'most' of the time, but it is not our enemy 'all' of the time. We do need to have an understanding of when it is time to not do anything, just as much as it is important to know when the time is right to work. Like a music composer who understands which notes to play next, and when to leave a pause in the music, rest as important as the work itself.

As a photographer, do you feel you have a good balance between putting the work in to create your imagery? Do you also feel you know when it is time to rest and go do something else instead? Do you never complete work? Or do you feel you have a strong sense of rhythm to your creative life and feel you know yourself well?

These are important questions, because our creative output (or lack of), often says a lot more about us than we think.

Dalkúr & Þóristíndur

Dalkúr & Þóristíndur are two mountains in the Veiðivötn area of Iceland. Veiðivötn means 'fishing waters or lakes'. It is an immense landscape of black desert that stretches for as far as the eye can see. It´s beautifully stark, one of those places where you become very very quiet the first time you enter. For all around you is abundant space with just very subtle gradual changes in dark grey and sometimes faintly dark brown desert.  If there is colour to be found here, it is in the form of iron ore brush strokes, often highlighted on the side of small black volcanic cones that occasionally dot the landscape.

Dalkúr & Þóristíndur are two mountains quite visible from the highland-road - an unsealed track made up of nothing more than tyre tracks from high clearance vehicles that manage to make it out to this place.

I'm not one for shooting towards the light. I call this 'shooting against the light' as it always feels as if the direction of travel of the light photons is against me. This kind of shooting results in extremely contrasty light, which I often find very hard to control during exposure and afterwards in the digital darkroom. But Veiðivötn encourages me to do just that because the sand is so dark that hardly any light reflects back from it. Contrasts are required, otherwise the final negatives may appear to be extremely flat.

With this shot, my photo group and myself made a brave attempt to shoot this while rain fronts were coming in every 10 minutes or so. The rain was obviously coming in our direction because the laws of the universe state that wherever you wish to point your camera, the wind and rain direction will always be lined up to land on your lens! So we had to repeatedly dry the lenses off and hope that some of our captures would not have any rain drops.

But most importantly for me was the need to control the contrasts. This shot was taken at a lull in the intensity of backlighting that was occurring. Sometimes the sun would poke right through the background cloud cover so much that I new there was no point in shooting. From a learning perspective, I should stress that when the light looks good to our eyes, it is often still too extreme in contrast. So I waited until the clouds began to cover the sun up so much that the contrast effect was at its lowest. Although the light may appear less exciting and not worth taking, it is the perfect time to capture something that has good dynamic range on your film or sensor, and still maintain the dramatic impression you felt whilst there.

Stac Pollaidh and Cul Mhor, Loch Bad a Ghaill, Inverpolly, Scotland. 2015. Image © Michael Kenna 2015

Stac Pollaidh and Cul Mhor, Loch Bad a Ghaill, Inverpolly, Scotland. 2015. Image © Michael Kenna 2015

On a side note: last year while I spent a very enjoyable week with Michael Kenna in the landscapes of the north west of Scotland, it was interesting to note that he prefers this kind of light. He is a black and white shooter, which often means he is looking for contrasts. I hadn't appreciated just how much though until I saw one of his images taken of a place I know so well, shot in the early morning with the sun coming up behind the mountain. This location I prefer to shoot when the sun is behind me, while Michael preferred it backlit. Somehow I feel my time with Michael may be the reason why I chose to shoot Dalkúr & Þóristíndur with backlighting. I often feel things are learned by absorption.



Back to my image. I also loved the boulder patch below the mountains. With backlit light they stand out and provide another contrast to the picture. They also provide an elegant arc that is the inverse of the curve of the skyline. 

These boulder patches are few: you can drive for miles and just encounter empty desert and then out of the blue, there's a small boulder patch sitting on its own. This is similar to the Bolivian Altiplano, with both landscapes, perplexing things happen where rocks appear to lie in places with no relation to the surrounding landscape.

Interestingly for me, I find Veiðivötn to be the antithesis of the Bolivian altiplano in terms of colour and tone. Both are vast empty minimal places and they feel like brother and sister to me, only with the Altiplano I'm encouraged to open up the tones and shoot the bright colour landscape, whereas with Veiðivötn, its power is in its shadows and mysterious dark tones. It is a landscape full of suggestion, a place where the mind wishes to peer below the surface, and on each visit there, I feel as though I have yet to scratch below the surface of what is there.

the recounting of an experience

For a long while earlier this year I felt as though winter would never end.

Now it feels like a distant memory.

I've just been browsing through my images from the island of Senja. It's the first time I've done this since I finished work on the edits back in March this year. You see, I don't often look at my own work once it's done.

But today I received a print order for one of my Senja images, and one thing has led to another and I've just spent the past twenty minutes browsing through the images I created back in February of this year.

When I look back at the images from a shoot, I often find my mind is filled with the same sensory feelings I had at the time I was there. It's like I've just been transported back to the shoot and I'm reliving everything I felt whilst there, and who I was at that moment in time.

I can recall the quality of the light throughout the day while I was on the island of Senja, and how it never really ever got very bright for most of the week. While I was there I was living in a perpetual semi-winter-darkness of muted tones and almost no colour. My energy levels were sluggish as I was still feeling the effects of the short days and lack of sunlight that winter often provides.

I think that's one thing that is very powerful about our own imagery. Because the images are ours, we have the ability through them, to be transported back to a place and time as if it was just a recent event in our lives. This is a highly personal experience as our images don't have the same effect on others. The impressions they give us are ours and ours alone.

I find any personal feelings tend to diminish the more frequently I visit my images. If I look at them too much, the impression of the shoot and my time whilst there gets lost in the new imprinting of current experience,  of where I am now, and of who I am at the moment of the current viewing. And the more I do this, the more the images become so familiar that they trigger almost no memory of past events at all. I  become numb to them.

Like a piece of music from our past that is played on the radio, the music has power to take us back to another time. I think with images we've made, the same is true. I just don't wish to view them too often, otherwise I worry that any emotions and memories associated with them will soon become blurred at best, or at worst, lost to me forever.

Acknowledging your influences

I'm in Hokkaido, Japan right now. It's lovely to be here.

Acknowledging one's own influences is good for the creative-soul. It's good to give credit where credit is due, and it's also very humbling to recognise that there is no such thing as true originality: we derive our work from what inspires us.

I think that acknowledging your influences is first and foremost a respectful thing to do. But it is also a way of understanding and tapping in to what it is that drives you forward as a photographer. 

Homage to Michael Kenna, Hokkaido, Japan, December 2015

Homage to Michael Kenna, Hokkaido, Japan, December 2015

I have learned so much by following (literally) in the footsteps of some of my heroes. I first visited Patagonia in 2003 because of Gallen Rowell's images of Torres del Paine national park in Chile. And now I am in Hokkaido, guided there by the inspiring photographs of the island by Michael Kenna.

When we do follow in the footsteps of our heroes, a few things happen. Firstly, we learn why certain locations worked for them, but we also learn a lot about ourselves in the process. I've arrived at a location I know through someone else's work whom I admire, only to find out that the landscape is more urbanised than I had thought. Or maybe I find out that there is simply only one aspect to shooting the location. Either way - I learn. And if I am fortunate enough, I may see other possibilities in the landscape: a view, or a fresh aspect that was not explored by my hero.

Following in someone else's footsteps is a worthy thing to do. But hopefully at some point, we begin to forge our own path. Even if you are visiting the same place as your hero, hopefully you'll begin to find your own voice after a while. I certainly think this is how my time in Patagonia has panned out for me over the last decade: where I initially saw Galen Rowell everywhere, I have moved past this and have found my own aesthetic in the Patagonian landscape. Now that I am here in Hokkaido, I acknowledge that I am at the very beginning of finding my own voice here. At this very moment,  Hokkaido is Michael Kenna and Michael Kenna is Hokkaido.

One thing that I'm acutely aware of, is just how much work MK put into crafting his vision of this island. It is a very personalised one, because on the surface, Hokkaido looks nothing like his images suggest. For one, it is a very populous place. It has as many people living here as there are in my native Scotland (5.5 million), and the landscape is not as pure and empty of people as MK's images suggest: the main source of industry on Hokkaido is that of agriculture and the landscape is littered with farms.

Art as Influence, as Inspiration

"art is often a symptom of the landscape"

Over the past few weeks, I've been enjoying and reading about the great Japanese artist Hokusai. Although Hokusai's name may not be universally known to many of us, his painting 'The Great Wave off Kanagawa', will be. It is perhaps the most famous Japanese print of all.

Hokkusai's 'The Great Wave of Kanagawa'.

Hokkusai's 'The Great Wave of Kanagawa'.

I'm due to visit Japan this December. It's a trip I've been looking forward to all year now and as it gets closer  I find I can't help myself but wish to know more about Japan, its art and its culture.

You see, I get great inspiration from enjoying and absorbing the art of the places I'm going to visit, because its art is often a symptom of its landscape. I think this is very true in Japan's case. Often the landscape has been cultivated to fit their aesthetic sensibilities, and other times the shape and form of the landscape has informed their art.

This is a beautifully illustrated book of Hokusai's work. I find that just looking and enjoying the work, that I am finding inspiration. 

This is a beautifully illustrated book of Hokusai's work. I find that just looking and enjoying the work, that I am finding inspiration. 

But as well as enjoying the art for its own sake, I find the actual process of investigating and learning about it helps me connect with the place I'm going to visit. Indeed, I often find that the art of a country can often mimic elements of the landscape, or the other way round.  In Japan's case, their landscape has been cultivated to a degree to match the culture's aesthetics. 

But there is more. The Japanese have very definite aesthetics to their art and architecture, and I feel that any understanding I gain before the trip may help me when I am piecing together a new portfolio of images. I guess I'm trying to say that since I felt inspired to come to Japan because of its art and their approach to shaping their landscape, I wish my photography to illustrate this as far as is possible. If I am not entirely ignorant about a place and the culture, then I think any knowledge I have is going to be absorbed hopefully in my picture making.

Inspiration can come from many sources, and I guess the most obvious one is to look at other photographer's work. But I think I stopped using others photography as the sole reason for my influences many years ago. These days I'm more likely to find inspiration through a book i've read, some music I've listened to (such as the wonderful 'Bino No Aozora by Ryuishi Sakamoto below)) and most likely - the art of the country, because the art is often a symptom of the landscape. 

Ryushi Sakamoto's 'Bibo No Aozora

Michael Kenna comes to visit :-)

Just wanted to share with those of you who don't read my newsletter. I had a nice time with Michael Kenna in the landscape for 4 days this March. He's a lot of fun and hope to see him again some time when / if he can fit it into his schedule.

Michael Kenna & Me, March 2015. It was a lot of fun MK - thanks for the visit !

Michael Kenna & Me, March 2015. It was a lot of fun MK - thanks for the visit !

He has been a terrific influence on my own work, so it was a real pleasure and honour to spend time with him. Best of all, he such an unassuming, fun person to be around :-)

Looking after your Mojo

This past while, I've been aware that I need to look after my creative mojo more than I have done in the past.

Running a business that is focussed on the artistic side of my personality can often mean that there is very little 'juice' left for myself, after running so many workshops and teaching photography all year.

mojo

I would imagine this may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you. Surely running a photographic workshop business means you get to lead a very creative life and create lots of images? Surely it's where we all want to be?

Well, I will not deny that I thoroughly enjoy my vocation. I feel I've found something that suits my personality very well: I love sharing ideas with people, I love meeting new people, and I love to talk and teach photography. I've met so many wonderful people over the years and some of them have become very dear friends and the workshops are great fun and very sociable.

But each of us has a finite amount of creative mojo that we can tap into, and I've sometimes found that after all the teaching and workshops I do, I have very little mojo left for myself.

My workshop business is important, and it takes priority over everything. So how do I make sure that all the work I do, doesn't exhaust me so much that I still have some photography-mojo left for my own projects?

Well, my solution has been to become more proactive.

Bearing in mind that my workshop schedule is often planned up to a year in advance, it's quite difficult to do anything spontaneous (self-project wise) over the coming year. So what I've had to do is start maintaining everything in Google's calendar:

For example, I often hear about some really special annual event, and usually, find that it overlaps with some workshop I have already got running. To overcome this, when I hear about something inspiring that I'd like to attend, I put it into google's calendar as an annual repeating event. This is done with the hope that when I come round to setting up future workshops and tours, I can schedule them around any special events I wish to attend.

For example, last year I found out about a special event that happens in Kyoto, Japan each year in February. I put it into my calendar as a repeating yearly event. So when it came round to setting up my annual Norway Lofoten tours and Iceland tours, I didn't overlap the dates.

Ok, so this has been a bit of a long pre-amble, but basically, what I'm really trying to say is that as creative people, we need to find time for our creative selves. My situation I know, is very different from many people's but I still suffer from the same problems as anybody else who works in a 9-5 weekly job. Most people are very time-poor. Jobs, family, children, commitments in many forms take our free time away and we are left with no time to do our 'art'.

As a creative people, we need to be kind to our creativity. We need to nourish it, feed it. We also need to respect it. That means giving it the time it deserves. I seldom see this with many of my clients. Most keen photographers have to slot in their photography sparingly during family holidays, or during a few hours on a weekend. It's not ideal, and it's hard to get a good level of work going if you're not giving it your undivided attention.

So if there is a message in this posting, it is this:

Are you looking after your Photographic-Mojo?

Certainly, it's something you should give some thought to. Photography is not something you just slot into a quick half-hour once in a while. To get stellar work, requires that you shoot more, and have all your attention on it when you are doing it.

Look after your creative side. Give it the time it needs by setting some special time aside and keep on top of it. Listen to your own creative needs and work some dedicated time into your life. If that means you have to plan in advance, then do it. You'll be a much happier photographer as a result.

How would you cope, if you lost your sight?

I really liked this movie. It made me think about how precious my vision is to me, as i'm sure it is, to all of us. Beautiful work, inspiring video, captivating ambient music. It's great to see that he found photography as a way of dealing with the outcome of some permanent physical damage. This man speaks much wisdom. He is a poet.

[embed width=400] http://vimeo.com/79138449 [/embed]

Reclaiming the landscape as my own

Whilst attending the Airwaves music festival in Iceland this October, I got to see Max Richter perform his recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Although Richter calls his work a ‘recomposition’, to you and I, he has reconstructed a piece of music that many of us know so well, into a new work. What I loved about his piece was that the work has elements of the original surfacing sometimes rather obliquely, and other times very transparently.

I love it when someone turns something that I know so well upside down on its head, because it forces me to look at it again as if for the very first time.

As he says himself in an interview with the Guardian newspaper a while ago:

"It's just everywhere. In a way, we stop being able to hear it. So this project is about reclaiming this music for me personally, by getting inside it and rediscovering it for myself – and taking a new path through a well-known landscape."

I think his choice of words is illuminating. Particularly 'taking a new path through a well-known landscape'.

Additionally, this ‘reclaiming’ he speaks of, is something that I identify with very much. In the case of our own memories and experiences of a landscape, they should be based upon our own encounters, but often, before we have even visited a place, we have been overwhelmed with images that others have made. Our own thoughts and impressions of a place have been coloured and influenced (read hi-jacked), before we've even had a chance to go there. Often times, we're just not aware that we don't own the original memory of a place. Our own experiences have been built on top of someone else's imagery.

This is hardly unforgivable. Some images of a place are so powerful that once we’ve seen them, it’s hard for us to look at the place in a new way. I’ve often heard photographers say ‘did you get the shot?’. Sometimes it seems that a particular angle or composition of a famous location can’t be bettered. My own feelings are that this simply isn’t true, and it’s wonderful when I do see a successful shot of a well trodden place that is a beautiful image in its own right, because it offers us a fresh way of experiencing something we know so well.

I think this only happens when we are able to break away from any pre-conceptions we have of a place. In order to do this, we have to be aware of how our own perception of a place has been coloured and shaped by the act of looking at other people's work of the same location.

We have to make a conscious effort to leave the well-trodden path and engage in a process of enquiry whilst on location. We have to be independent enough to see what we see, not what others saw.

I'm glad I came across Max Richter's interpretation of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, because it has ignited in me a sense of wonder for a piece of work that had become mostly invisible through over-familiarity. For me, he has brought the Four Seasons sharply back into focus.

He has reminded me of my need to enquire and investigate the landscapes that I visit, because it is through this sense of enquiry that my own thoughts and emotions are translated into my own personal vision of a location. It is only then, that I'm able to do what Max Richter has done - to reclaim the landscape as my own.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEgOEZm9CNw&width=400

New Website Portfolio's

I've been away all week on the isle of Eigg with a terrific group, running a workshop. I've not got much time today, but felt I should let you all know that all the new images I've been producing for the past year - are now up on my site.

I decided to separate them into a 'new' section, away from my older work, as I feel there's a refinement in my style over the past few years. So if you'd like to browse the work, which includes Iceland, Norway, Patagonia and my recent trip to Bolivia, please click on the 'new' section to the navigation menu at the top of the blog.

I hope you enjoy the newer images presented in portfolios, even if you feel you know most of the work by visiting my blog.

Banana Keyboard

I saw this on the BBC news site a few days ago, and wanted to post about it. It's got nothing to do with photography (as far as I can see, so far), but it's inspiring anyway. I love the Banana keyboard the best:


It's done with a device called Makey Makey, which looks like it's not available yet, but they have a pledge area to make the project viable. If you'd like to contribute, or find out more about it, go here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joylabs/makey-makey-an-invention-kit-for-everyone

Spirit of Eden

"before you can play two notes, learn how to play one note"

"and don't play one note unless you've got a reason to play it"

Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden
Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden

Regular readers of this very blog will know by now, that I'm very much into music in a big way. You will also know by now, that I believe there is a very tight relationship between music and photography.

Some people are able to conjure up mental images whilst listening to music. Others simply 'feel' a mood when listening to music, and that is certainly how I feel when I make images with my camera. I 'feel' things when I compose and when I'm working in my digital dark-room too. It's of no surprise that in the musical world, musicians use words like 'dark' and 'bright' to describe the 'texture' or timbre of a sound, or the mood of a piece of music. The same happens when people look at images, they seem to conjure up moods and feelings that are often stirred when listening to music.

Certainly for me, I find that some of my favourite music seems to accompany me whilst I'm out on location making images. My own music collection seems to act as a canvas for my own image making process.

I discovered tonight that one of my all time favourite albums has been re-issued. It's a difficult album for some to listen to, but it was so different at the time of its release. No one saw that it would inspire and be used as a template by prominent bands like Radiohead (for one example) in the coming years. Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden has a lot to offer the listener who's prepared to engage and work at growing into this 'sound canvas'. I even think the art-work is an inspired accompaniment to the music contained within the sleeve.

So for those of you who already own this, you may be interested to know that it's been released as a 180g vinyl release with a special 96khz DVD rom of the entire album (mmmm.... mine has already been ordered). But has also been re-issued on CD too and apparently it's the clearest remaster to date.

This album has given me so much inspiration over the years. So much so that I can't overstate it. It has shown me that you should stay true to your own direction and even if popular culture is going one way, it's ok to swim against the tide. There was nothing 1988 about this album upon its release. It was brave. It made its own statement and it was confident to be what it was, to not follow current trends. I think that alone, was a message that was powerfully demonstrated for me.

I hope you have albums like that in your collection. One's that illustrate individuality, and one's that can, perhaps, help guide you along in your own creative development.