Mark Hollis, musical genius has passed away

Dear Mark Hollis,

Thank you so much for the music.

Spirit of Eden is one of my most treasured of records. Musically it is a masterpiece that many did not understand at the time of its release in 1988. But it has since garnered the badge of being one of the most influential rock albums of all time.

Spirit of Eden is hailed as the source of ‘post rock’, and cited as a major influence by bands such as Sigur Rós

Spirit of Eden is hailed as the source of ‘post rock’, and cited as a major influence by bands such as Sigur Rós

Many say that Spirit of Eden was responsible for the wave of post-rock bands such as Sigur Rós. I well remember upon its release that there was nothing to compare it to, and that this was the problem: it was too ahead of its time. It was released when there was no post-rock genre to embrace it. But people did. What started out as a sub-culture of appreciation for this work has grown over the years to the point that the album is now recognised for being the treasure that it is.

Being a creative person myself, watching your career, and how you managed to remain true to yourself and your art over the years has been a vital lesson for me. You taught me, through your music, that is much better to follow your own path than to follow others. It may be a lonelier road at times, and many people may not understand you, but being true to who you are is what counts.

Spirit of Eden has given me so much peace and beauty to my inner-life over the past thirty years. I wish to let you know.

I wish you peace Mark.

Abandoned Window

Music  inspires me. I have SONOS all around my home and I have music on most of my time while there. The TV is seldom on. Where do you get your inspiration from?

Here is Jon Hopkins playing 'abandoned window'. The album version has a lot more electronica added to the piano. He writes music for films (Monsters), and has worked with people like King Creosote on the wonderful Diamond Mine album.

What I love about Jon's work, is that he can move from classical to electronica, to ambient, to folk, and always retains his signature sound.

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.

Iceland Airwaves Music Festival

I'm heading out to Reykjavik tomorrow for the Airwaves music festival. I am soooo excited, you can't possibly know just how much I am looking forward to this event.

I thought that tonight I should post something in relation to the Airwaves music festival.

For me, music and photography are so closely related.

I started off in life as a budding musician who migrated fully to photography around the age of 30. I see parallels between the creative processes involved in both, so much so, that I don't consider myself a 'photographer', but more a 'creative person'.

Badges can be limiting at times.

It's important to be around inspiring people, and what better way to do that, than by attending a music or photography festival.

I'll leave you with Samaris' song 'góða tungl'. A song of great depth, that comes from a group of teenagers - yep - they're in their late teens. I think this perhaps illustrates the tip of the iceberg (pun not intended) with regards to the quantity of musical talent in Iceland, or predominantly Reykjavik. I find this immensely surprising because the town is small - with only 110,000 people there, it's such a powerhouse of musical creativity.

I think of Reykjavik as one of the biggest small towns I know, and I'm extremely grateful to have a profession and lifestyle that allows me to come to Iceland so frequently.

The town and country have become a home from home for me.

I think when you do as much travel as I do, the world shrinks in a way, and places that seem exotic or rare take on a familiarity that is homely. Distance soon evaporates and I'm left with a residue that is the emotional experience of getting to know a place.

It's hard to explain, because traveling so much is not as glamorous as you may think.

It can sometimes feel as though you are living in a constant state of detachment and you may find yourself wishing for a slice of home. I think with the right attitude though, and enough time visiting places, they soon lose that foreign element and begin to feel like a familiar haunt. A local landmark if you like.

But, instead of the local landmark being a few miles away, it is a plane ride away. It is only through familiarity and frequency of visits, that distance becomes irrelevant, and through this, the true nature of what a place means to you, begins to surface.

So tomorrow I go home to Reykjavik. A home from home :-)

So much talent, for such a small country

I'm in Reykjavik this week. I've just been to a local record store - 12 Tonar, which is no ordinary record store. It is also a music label for upcoming Icelandic musicians and bands.

I've just had the most inspiring afternoon in there. Firstly, the guy who runs the store has little CD players all over the place, and you're encouraged to just pick up an album and put it on and listen. Needless to say, I've just left the store with around six CD's of music that sounded really wonderful to me.

What I would like to know is, why has such a small country - with a population of around 330,000 people, have such an amazing array of musicians and bands? It seems I am hearing about new music from there almost every week.

What is it about Iceland that the country is producing such an array of music?

I would love to think it's due to the landscape.

[vimeo 37124408 w=400]

I feel though, that it has more to do with the remoteness and identity of icelandic people. There is something very unique about Reykjavik. The downtown section of the 'city' (more like a rustic little town), has a vibe about it - it's very bohemian. It's like a place designed by artists, for artists to live in. Perhaps Iceland is a place for artists?

I wondered today, if I could live here. Being from Scotland, I find our winters pretty long..... and Iceland is one further step on from that. So I'm not so sure if I could do it. And this led me on to think about how where we are from, and what we experience in terms of climate, can shape and mould us.

I know for sure, that Scotland has moulded who I am. So I know that growing up and living in Iceland would have certainly moulded the musicians here, and their music.

As a creative person, I'm aways wondering how much my photography would have differed, if I'd grown up somewhere else. Surely I wouldn't be the same person I am now? We are definitely a product of our environment.

Winter is coming

Or it's here, depending on where you are right now, and when you are reading this post ;-)


I thought I would post this, as it's perhaps the most beautiful thing I've heard in a long while. There's a bit of 'Aha' in this I think.

Again, music just takes you places in your mind and in your soul. That's what photography should do for you also, particularly when you're out there making images. Have you ever gone out to shoot whilst listening to your iPod - particularly when the music is as emotive as this?

It's worth a go, as I think this helps you remove yourself from 'being there' and into the space of 'being elsewhere'.

Isn't that what we're trying to achieve with photography after all?

Discreet Music

For a few weeks, while I was away in Bolivia and Patagonia, I had a little portable pair of stereo speakers for my iPod. I've had trouble sleeping of late, partly due to the change in time zones, climate, different beds each couple of days, and so on. I found Brian Eno's album 'Discreet Music' was ideal for listening to while I tried to sleep. I found it extremely soothing and it often fitted the background very well. Brian Eno's Discreet Music

I read this about the album today on Wikipedia:

"The inspiration for this album began when Eno was left bed-ridden in a hospital by an automobile accident and was given an album of eighteenth-century harp music.[2] After struggling to put the record on the turntable and returning to bed, he realized that the volume was turned down (toward the threshold of inaudibility) but he lacked the strength to get up from the bed again and turn it up. Eno said this experience taught him a new way to perceive music:

"This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music—as part of the ambience of the environment just as the color of the light and the sound of the rain were parts of that ambience."

I found this extremely interesting. Eno was forced to re-interpret the harp music in an unintended way. I often find many things are more interesting when used in an unintended way, and I think as a creative person, we should not just assume, but instead, we should enquire. This is what Eno did with his harp music, and I feel this is very much the main task of a creative person. We are enquirers. We engage with our subjects and we should question what is there, because without questioning, we may never see a new side, a new angle, or come across a discovery in our own art.

That alone is worth discussing. But let's move on to the main point for me - he decided to put an album together that was basically 'furniture music', music that was intended to fit as ambience more than anything. I often find other music like Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians is also perfect background ambience. But I think what got me in the last sentence in Wikipedia was Eno comparing the harp music as just another facet of his environment: it was no different from  the colour of the light or the sound of the rain.

In a way, shouldn't there be little or no separation between what we create and our environment? It is our environment that is our influence. We are a product of our environment, so why should be compartmentalise our creative time from the rest of our lives?

I know for instance, that many workshop participants tell me it takes them a few days to get their visual muscle working well while out making images. Perhaps I've had too much exercise in that department, but I see no reason why I can't always be thinking visually while I am not making images. Why should I compartmentalise this to something I do when I make images, and something I don't do, while I am watching TV, or driving?

I prefer not to compartmentalise. For instance, when I make images out in the field, I see no separation from the shoot, and the edit. In fact, I often feel as though I am iteratively going back and forth from editing and creating while I am on location, and I often re-compose the image through cropping once back at home. Putting a logical division in there, only gets in the way of what it is that I am doing - it is one never ending journey.

Currently, I have around 68 rolls of film from my recent trip to Patagonia and Bolivia away for development, but I don't consider the creative process stalled or stopped at the moment; they feel as if they are simply fermenting in my mind, waiting for the continuation of their birth to happen once they arrive back on my desk at home.

I certainly found listening to Discreet Music at a low volume was important. Too loud, and it dominated, but at the right volume, it integrated with my environment, and worked at a subliminal level. I was aware that something was being played, but my thought patterns weren't distracted by it.

I feel I have the same attitude whilst working on my images. And when I mean working on them, I mean the entire process - from out in the field, to back at the ranch in my digital darkroom: the process is one and the same thing for me. The process shouldn't be overly demanding. I shouldn't be overwhelmed at any stage, because this induces a form of stress. Stress is a form of blockage. Blockages have nothing to do with being creative, but more to do with writers block. To create, things must flow.

Creative people know that work has a way of surfacing. It may feel as if there was no intervention at times, because I think we tap into our subliminal states whilst we are in the creative mode.

Listening to music such as Eno's Discreet Music teaches me something. It taught me that my own mind is always working on things, even when I am not aware of it, and that when I think I haven't started on some work, that maybe the work is already underway in the back of my mind. I never really know how new work comes about, how it is created or where the source of it lies. All I know is that by being receptive to my subconscious, and by not putting boundaries or divisions up in my creative process (field work vs digital darkroom work for instance, or by thinking there are times for being creative, and times for when I shouldn't be), the work has a chance to flow.