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.


Old meets new

I was in Bhutan two years ago. I’ve only just gotten round to looking at the films from this trip.

As part of the trip, I was able to get access ‘behind the scenes’ to some of the quarters where the dancers were getting dressed.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, and I’m so surprised to note that one of the Bhutanese dancers is busy checking his mobile phone while he is preparing to dress for the festival. I simply didn’t spot it at the time I was making the photos. Part of getting on with the chaos that was around me at the time of the shoot.


Adventure in the Central Highlands of Iceland

I’m just home from almost an entire month in the central highlands of Iceland.

I think I’ve made a lot of very special images from this trip, as we had some atmospheric / wintry conditions to shoot in. In the photograph below you can see some of my group and myself standing around waiting for a squall to pass through.

Image used by kind permission. © Martin Bowen, 2018 September Fjallabak Iceland tour, 2018

Image used by kind permission. © Martin Bowen, 2018
September Fjallabak Iceland tour, 2018

In my view, fair weather photography is pretty one-dimensional. To open up your shooting options and to give your work some atmosphere, you need to shoot in all kinds of weather. It is not unusual for me to shoot in rainy, windy conditions. It’s the only way to get certain tones and atmospheres in my work, and I’ve learned a load in the process also. Besides, dramatic weather is quite exciting!

We had a blast. It was challenging trying to anticipate just how long some of the squalls would be. There were a few moments when we had hiked a little distance from the car, only to find ourselves in a white-out. Realising that we might not find our way back to the car if we stayed where we were, we would start to retreat while we could still see our footprints.

After a few days we learned to read the weather. We knew that most squalls that came through lasted for a few minutes and then things would clear. Learning to read weather and to understand the rhythms at play is advantageous. I’ve met a few mountaineers on my trips who have learned to do just that, and I often wish I had the same skill with regards to reading weather systems.

me checking for when the clouds would cover the sun. The weather would vary dramatically, with sunny weather followed by a snow storm, followed by zero visibility in some cases, followed by some sunny weather…… Image used by kind permission © Martin Bowen 2018

me checking for when the clouds would cover the sun. The weather would vary dramatically, with sunny weather followed by a snow storm, followed by zero visibility in some cases, followed by some sunny weather……
Image used by kind permission © Martin Bowen 2018

The best shooting was done was at the edge of the storms. Just as the snow would start to blow in, the black deserts would have a stippled effect as hail began to land lightly, before it would all disappear in a white-out. Then, as the squall began to pass, we would be standing waiting for it to clear and that was the other best time to shoot - as the visibility began to come back.

Photographing in clear weather is just so….. boring by comparison.

I’m certain I got a lot of new, interesting material from this visit to Iceland. I shot 51 rolls of film, and my cameras were often condensing up - the prism finders of my old Hasselblad 500 series cameras would become so hard to look through, that I just had to guess and hope that I was getting on film what I thought I was seeing.

You have to venture outdoors in all weather. Staying in-doors because it seems like a bad day will only limit your photography, and I’ve only ever had a couple of trips where the group and I couldn’t get much done because the weather was beyond bad. Otherwise we have always managed to get something.

If you don’t go, you don’t get.

The restless come down

"When I'm at home, I long to be away on my travels with my camera
and when I'm away, I sometimes long to be at home"

I'm just home from a month traveling in South America. It is something I do annually and I dearly love returning to Patagonia and Bolivia. Like most of the landscapes I have become acquainted with over the years, they have become a home from home for me. I dearly love them and would be very sad indeed if I could not return as frequently as I do. I fully appreciate that as part of my job, it is a real luxury to go to Patagonia and Bolivia each year, when these destinations are perhaps at most a once in a life-time experience for many.

Cono de Arita, Argentina Altiplano, Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Cono de Arita, Argentina Altiplano, Image © Bruce Percy 2015

I've been back home for a week, and I've found it very hard re-adjusting. Years ago, the adjustment was just as hard, but in a different way. Traveling abroad would be a real luxury for me - a once a year endeavour and escape from my (at the time) IT job. I fully see and understand the parallels for my dear clients - many of whom have become good friends. I understand their excitement on coming with me to Patagonia or Bolivia.

But for me now, the re-adjustment is different. I do so much traveling, and spend so much time with groups of enthusiastic photographers, where the chat and banter are so much fun, that it's often very hard to come back to my home town and settle back in to a routine. I noticed last year for instance, that after being home for two weeks, I was hatching plans to buy a plane ticket and head off..... I'm glad to say that I resisted the temptation and went 'cold-turkey' for a month.

It was only then that I really started to enjoy being home. The same bed each nice (bliss!), the same kettle, I didn't have to pay a fortune each time I wanted a cup of tea or coffee. I had full privacy, and the surprising thing of all - I delighted in the familiar.

It took me a while to realise, that due to the amount of traveling I was doing, I was becoming 'institutionalised'. The travel, the landscapes, the places I love to go to, were becoming more of a home for me, than my real home was.

So this year, I opted to go 'cold-turkey' for three months. To stay at home and just enjoy the familiarity of my surroundings. Well, I'm one week in so far, and I'm already feeling that sense of restlessness that seems to pervade my thoughts. But I know I'll get through it, and before I know it, I will be psychologically ramping up for going away on my travels during the autumn and winter.

It's a schizophrenic life I lead, and I think it's not dissimilar to many others who have a love of landscape photography.

The thing is, I recognise that I'm not alone. Most of us who have a passion for the landscape, have a desire to break free from the 9-5 job, or to be more connected with the world in some way.

Watching the clouds roll over a landscape, or watching the tide wash against a coastline is as primeval an instinct as staring at a fire is. It seems to be something deep within some of us, that we simply just want to be as connected with the world and our environment as we can be.

It's a restlessness of some kind, and I think it's just the way it is: we can't control the urge or the impulse, and because we can't, we never really know exactly where we want to be.

Perhaps it's just a yearning for a sense of balance that we're really searching for? 

We are inquisitive by nature: I would put it to you that all landscape photographers are seeking to know more, to feel more connected, to feel more alive, and one way to do that, is to go searching, traveling, seeking.

With that inquisitiveness has to come a sense of restlessness. And with that restlessness comes a need for some kind of balance between routine and adventure.

In the middle of this nowhere

I arrived in Bodø (pronounced Boda) around 11pm one February. It was dark and very very cold outside the airport. It was also the first time I had chosen not to attempt to sleep in the airport (my connecting flight to the Lofoten Islands was always at 5am the next morning).

Getting to the Lofoten Islands is not easy. First you need to arrive in Oslo, and once there, you need to take an internal flight up to the very top of Norway to the town of Bodø. From there the Lofoten islands are a short 20 minute plane hop, or a four hour ferry journey. Only in winter, like here in Scotland, you’d be lucky if the ferry is running at all.

So I’d opted to stay at the local youth hostel in town. The taxi took me there in about 10 minutes from the airport and cost me around £20 one way. I checked in. The place seemed to be occupied by young guys coming and going at all hours, when there is nothing to go anywhere for, unless you like snow and darkness.

I ventured outside to see if I could get something to eat. At 11pm in northern Norway in February, very little is open. Norwegian towns are very quiet, law-abiding, deserted places and I felt particularly lonely on this first of many journeys to Bodø. I kept walking and found the only place open in town - a Pizza shop. 

They asked me about Scotland and I asked them about Norwegian life. They were about 20 years old, while I was at least double their age. But we had a lot in common, being the only people in town not ensconced at home at 11pm.

I wanted a coffee, or a tea, but they only had Coca Cola, so I bought the smallest bottle they had, a 2 litre plastic container of sugary water. I went back to my hostel and after eating my pizza, I looked out of the window of my room onto the train station below. I thought about how this wasn't exactly the warmest fun place to be, and at that moment I realised how much my life sucks at times. Running a business that involves travelling when I sometimes don't feel like it, can be hard at times.

As exotic as it seems to some (and I do have moments when it feels wonderfully exotic), there are often times when I have to stare at the harsh reality of what my life has become. The space between leaving home and arriving at my destination can feel like a displaced, friendless-ness space in which to be stuck in for anywhere up to a whole day and one empty evening.

It can feel like I'm in the middle of nowhere.

But it's always temporary, and good things always come out of my ventures.

In the morning I was on the local plane hop over to Lofoten. The plane was tiny with around 20 seats in it, and everyone clambered on board with their shopping and luggage in their hands. We rose abruptly into the sky, got tossed around in the winter storm, and just as quickly as we had ascended, we abruptly hit the ground on the other side. 

My air hostess had conducted the safety briefing in English - just for me. I was the only non-native on the local flight, a flight that is more akin to a bus service than anything else. She said before we departed ‘ if we can’t land due to strong winds, we’ll turn round and come back’. I liked her plan very much.

Since my first trip to Lofoten, I’ve become friends with a handful of the locals in the town of Reine, and many others that I know well enough to say hello to. I'm the outsider, the one with the Scottish accent that comes once a year for about two to three weeks every February.

Mostly my friends there are expats: I have friends who are Dutch, Swedish, Australian and one of them - Sandro - is half Norwegian and half Italian. Lofoten seems to attract outsiders to come and live there.

Beauty is one thing, and beautiful Lofoten is. But it’s not for everyone. With long winters, and a small community, some of us (and I think I’m one of them) would go a little crazy with all that space and silence. 

As my Dutch friend Lilian who lives there once said to me ‘if you have any personal issues, a place like this can amplify them. It’s not a place to run away to if you have emotional things you need to run away from’. Being in the middle of nowhere, whether it's a hostel in a northern town in Norway, or whether it's sitting on a plane,  often gives me a glimpse of what Lilian describes. My thoughts and feelings often get amplified whilst in the middle of nowhere.