Yesterday afternoon, perhaps an hour before sunset, I took a drive up the coast to an isolated beach, most definitely alone as a fresh blizzard stormed in off the Minch between us and the Isle of Harris. A bitter wind stung my face with ice pellets as I crossed the smooth boulders to the water’s edge, flushing a group of Oystercatchers that flew away protesting with their piercing cries. Another strange squeaky call attracted my attention and I was excited to find a young Otter kit, which I watched and filmed for some time before the incoming tide forced it into a less accessible area. For over an hour I played tag with the big waves as they rolled in over the reef, getting ceremonially soaked as usual. Later, as I drove home in the rapidly failing light, watching the low clouds rolling in over the Glen, I felt strangely energised and alive.
As is so often the case, the seeds of my articles are sown in moments like these, and as I pulled down our drive and was wrapped in the inviting warmth of our little Highland cottage, I wrote a title on a piece of paper and settled down to dinner.
For over a decade making photographs for me was about technique and mechanics; learning ways of achieving things, or overcoming limitations of lenses, sensors, computers and imagination! Now, it is more about using the process to find out more about me and exploring aspects of my personality and appreciation of the aesthetic. I almost exclusively photograph the landscape, which in itself is essentially devoid of meaning, it is what it is, does what it does and cares not for my ups, downs or perspectives. But, when I photograph the landscape, I am doing so to explore my brain, to learn about me: Why? So I can become better at being me!
What can the landscape possibly tell me about me?
For a start, not a lot if I don’t listen. In any conversation, listening is a skill, and over the past couple of years I have come to redefine my whole approach to what is traditionally called “the Art of Seeing” I stopped looking for compositions some time ago, and now aim for a subconscious awareness of flow, form, relationships, both explicit and implied, and a harmonic resonance which is felt rather than seen.
When I make photographs in these moments of flow, my consciousness is not driving the process, which in turn opens gateways to my innate. I know this all sounds a bit Zen, but that’s where this cat’s at, man!
Every single photograph I make is unique; those seconds are gone, never to be repeated, lost in the increasing void that is the past. Subsequently, each image is an insight not just into that moment, but the who I was at that moment. Each second we’re alive, we’re changing and evolving – it can be an exciting, yet scary journey: However, this journey is my focus, filling the pages of my life book with interesting stories of plot and character development. It just so happens a camera is my tool of choice to explore the world and the me that’s experiencing it.
The Fight against Constancy
Most of us would readily embrace a feeling of reliable contentment, taking each day with optimism, hope, health and happiness. Sadly, for most, that is not the case. We’re a vulnerable species, ailments take us in our prime and for those of us living well north of the Equator, shorter winter days and Vitamin D deficiencies can leave us feeling low in energy and moody. I find this unacceptable, but have began to reinterpret this perspective with the help of watching the seasons pass in our Scottish Glen. In winter the flowers and shrubs have all died back, the trees have lost their leaves, a brave Robin defends a territory fiercely “This food’s mine!” and even the sheep look miserable, perhaps secretly praying in their own delicate minds for the first flush of spring. Snow and Ice lock our vista into a stark monochrome, yet at my feet the first tentative shoots of Daffodils have pushed up through the frozen ground ready to burst forth in a blaze of glory.
Spring arrives and the migrant birds returns and the glen is once again alive with the sounds of Cuckoos, Swallows and Warblers. The bracken, which for half the year has been a rich golden ochre, sprouts vigorously and is soon shoulder high. This orgy of excess continues day after day throughout July and the eyes see only green. Then, there’s that one morning in late August when there’s a slight chill in the air and the dew seems to glisten. Autumn is here and the transient decay towards winter begins again.
A Timely Perspective
If nothing else, the landscape has taught me patience, resilience and an acceptance of the flow of the seasons. Here at 57° N our day length varies from a wholesome 18 hours and 4 minutes in mid summer to a paltry 5 hours 13 minutes in mid winter. How can I possibly expect constancy under these conditions? But, this acceptance and embracing each day for what it is can be vital for our evolution. We are a species driven by our fears, hormones and numerous neurosis – finding peace in our existence and the pleasure of a day well spent are more valuable than gold. If we wait, the sun will rise again: The night ends.
Beauty is in both the eye and mind
My whole appreciation of the Aesthetic has been cultivated by the landscape. With a classical western education, I know the Rule of Thirds, Colour Theory, the concepts of Fractals and Chaos, tools and guidelines summarising our understanding for perfection in form. My experimentation with the innate and searching for what I call my Natural Aesthetics (as opposed to Nurture Aesthetics) has allowed for my experiences of the landscape to manifest deep, subconscious relationships, templates and structures that combine in what I think are aesthetically pleasing images.
As if to illustrate my lack of constancy, on some days I am drawn to simplicity, clarity, minimalism, tidiness, ethereal and calming scenes. On others, quite the reverse: Chaos, energy, dynamics, conflict, juxtaposition and tension, or indeed, endless combination of any of the above. This is why I don’t go out into the field anymore looking for compositions; the landscape has taught me to listen to its murmurings andmy inner dialogue, which then coalesce forming a symbiotic, harmonious and intimate relationship. It is this fusion of the environment, my perspectives and the subsequent expression, which produce images that represent to me a Harmonic Resonance with myself and my surroundings.
The Rules of Engagement
My older brother once said to me: “Your education is to prepare your brain to be open, ready for when inspiration strikes.” I loved that, and have since applied myself to be open. When I go into the countryside I’m looking at the geology, the plants, animals, birds, flowers, insects, weather, colours, shapes, patterns and textures. I analyse depth and the perception of depth. I look at 3-dimensionality and the subtle shift of hue between shadows and deeper shadows. Everything interests me and I am naturally inquisitive; I’ll run over that ridge just to see what’s on the other side, even if I’m happy where I am. I’ll seek out caves and the crevices under boulders, never looking for images, just being open for when inspiration strikes. Those eureka moments tend to come along thick and fast, and I compose by feel, allowing the flow and harmony of the relationships to settle themselves within the frame.
For me, it is these interactions of elements that engage me – putting things together to form aesthetic harmony. They reflect my personality in all its manifestations, from the frivolous to the dark, mysterious depths of my fears. Life reflects art and art reflects life, and should we listen to the landscape around us and make the images we both feel and see, then we open the door to opportunity; the pathway to understanding ourselves, the good and the bad. For surely in our lives, we are both the author and the reader.