A Journey - Tutor to Student
As we approach the end of the year it's an obvious time to reflect on what has been achieved, learned and to try and identify the changing perspective that is maybe to subtle to recognise in the moment. I can't say that 2015 has necessarily been my best year photographically but then I have come to question the criteria for success more and more this year than ever before.
Whilst I have received some recognition through external judging (Landscape photographer of the Year, awarded, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, published and achieving BPE5*, something that only a few hundred photographers have gained) I would be the first to point out that this type of public recognition doesn't mean that I have progressed or am even very good at what I do. As many of you know, success in such things merely reflects the opinions of those judging, the trends we see in style and often the quality of images that yours are in the company of.
This then begs the question of, how to objectively measure your own progress? It's a question I have toiled with a lot this year. Running a photography tuition business just muddies this question more for me as I am more often than not making images that I feel are good for the business, to show clients the type of subjects and shots at various locations.
The business has grown well this year so I don't regret tipping the balance of shot making towards commercial rather than personal but half way through the year I did start to question my personal satisfaction in terms of creativity and feeling growth with what I was producing.
This dip in personal satisfaction led to some discussion with a friend and creative mentor, he advised me to do the obvious, take time out to shoot just for me - obvious right? Easy - no!
So naturally I did, but the real golden nugget of advice he gave was to shoot differently. Breaking the workflow, practise and methods that I had become so accustomed to would take me back to the days when every shot felt like a "new shot".
That sense of excitement, anticipation and exploration soon returned as I switched from digital back to film. A medium format camera, 35yrs old, a roll of 15 frames and a completely different way of working which took me out of an Alan workshop tutor mode and into an Alan student mode.
Now, I have to be honest, the results I got back 3 months after taking 15 frames were mixed. However, the change in workflow, renewed enthusiasm and using different equipment led me back to the enjoyment of my earlier days in image making and rubbed off on my digital work too. I started to make images again that were more considered, more my own interpretations and it felt like a step forwards.
There has been much debate in the landscape photography community about the "cliché" image so I wont echo all the arguments again in this post. Needless to say I fall on the side of the debate that says make images that you enjoy making, that satisfy you, stretch you and don't worry if it has been done before! What's important for me in image making is that I apply my own interpretation to a shot that reflects how I feel about the subject, if that happens to be similar to someone else's then so be it. I certainly don't create images to gain Facebook likes or Flickr favourites, in fact the images that I like the most are typically the ones that don't get many likes and comments.
So here are 15 images from 2015 that I remain happy with. I say remain happy with because no doubt I will look back at them at some point in the future and cringe, frown or mildly disapprove of. The 15 images are a mix of digital and film and I have chosen them for different reasons. Some reflect the personal projects I am working on, a few are images from workshops that I led in 2015.
15 from 2015
There is something very appealing about early winter photography - the sense of dormancy, sleep, rejuvenation, stripped bare and often a sense of isolation. The "lone tree" shot is one of those images that I think many of us make and why not, there is something memorising about a tree on the horizon, isolated showing great contrast against a sky. This image had particular appeal with the stripes left as scars from the last harvest running diagonally towards the horizon.
As you'll probably know "Hartland Quay" is one of my favourite locations, the rock formations combined with the fierce tides are always exciting. This image was taken at dusk in February as the last light fell on the rocks and sky turned a scarlet tone. The long exposure (no use of ND's) created this wonderful translucent effect where the rocks meet the incoming tide. There is a real sense of calmness in this image for me which is the opposite to how it feels when you are positioned on the rocky outcrops, light fading and tide coming in.
The Lake District is always a pleasure to visit and photograph. February is a great time if you like snow peaked fells and often wonderful light late afternoon. The cottage is located in Little Langdale and this is the view from the approach into the valley. The light was very high contrast and it was a challenge to correctly expose such a large dynamic range, but in using a graduated neutral density filter I managed to capture a good range of shadows and highlights and adjust the tonal range in Lightroom afterwards to create something which i think reflects the moodiness of the brooding sky over the snow peaked fells and spotlight of sun that fell nicely onto the cottage and pasture in the valley.
Another from Feb in the Lake District - I made this image simply because of the silvery shimmer on the surface of Derwent Water. Jetty shots are of course popular and done to death in the Lakes so if I am going to make such an image then it has to be more than just another jetty shot. Many would wish for a cyan, magenta, pink and orange sky, whereas I really didn't want vibrant colours to compete for attention. The light, calmness of water with just a slight ripple, snow capped fell and contrast of mid and shadow tones of the jetty against the water created a feeling of tranquillity for me. Tranquillity is generally the overriding feeling I have when making early morning images so I was fortunate that the light and conditions enabled me to portray this in this image.
May marked the start of a change in perspective brought about by some anticipated medical intervention. I was drawn to green, psychologically a colour that represents healing and rejuvenation but it was the contrast of this vibrancy against dark backgrounds in shadows, maybe representing the unknown. When making this image and many similar ones that followed it in May I hadn't given to much deep thought or consideration as to why I was suddenly drawn to this combination. I made images that intuitively appealed and it marked the start of a different chapter for me.
As you can see with Ghost Trunk that draw to nature, woodlands, ferns and possibly macabre representation continued throughout May. It wasn't the suggestion of faces in the trunk that initially caught my eye, the twisted limbs intertwining with the side light just catching the fern seem to fit with my feel for an image that showed the light and darkness creating a blend of contrasts that mirrored my anxiety about surgery.
A month later and surgery postponed I guess I took on a brighter perspective! This image really encapsulates how I felt that nothing in life was anchored in reality or could be made to stand still. The fluidity and movement of life means we have to bend and shape ourselves with what is thrown at us. The shot came about on a workshop and born out of a discussion with a client on why fight the conditions you are facing. Trying to freeze frame a swaying meadow to show flowers sharp is of course a legitimate goal and is one way of making this shot. However, i would generally advise using whatever conditions you have to your advantage, making the image with the movement, rather than fighting it, allowing the sense of translucency and dancing swaying grasses to portray the feeling experienced.
September saw a return to that macabre feel - surgery postponed again and the unexpected passing of my daughters step-father had meant a long period of absence from photography. However it also marked the start of some new projects, ideas and breaking some methods. This was one of the first images made from that first roll of medium format film. It has a similar feel to Ghost Trunk with the twisted and scarred fascia with contrasts between warm and cool tones with side light just illuminating the higher ridges of tortured bark.
I guess its hard to avoid making an autumn shot without making use of the vibrant colours. I spent a lot of time at Batsford Arboretum this year running daily workshops and those that attended will recall how we joked and debated as to whether we could or should avoid the eye candy shots of vibrant reds and pinks in the acer trees or avoid making the vista image to show too much. This shot was born out of those great debates, hopefully showing the wonderful autumn colour whilst at the same time framing it in such a way that meant simplicity and beauty was not compromised.
Another shot from Batsford this year and an attempt to point out the beauty of what was under our feet yet often just walked over and unnoticed in preference to the bombastic colours of foliage above our heads. This interpretation has been desaturated considerably to reduce the colour vibrancy from the original capture. The sweet chestnut shells, leaves and soft light hopefully portray the warm autumn tones and cycle of decay,
Another from the bark study collection - an ongoing personal project - I have taken 20 or so shots this year for this but it seems to continually get culled down to a handful of shots as I search for the right variety and continuity of light, texture and movement.
More standard fare I guess but hard to resist those atmospheric conditions and tones. These types of shots are of course common place but I tried to ensure that processing was minimal to retain the softness and subdued light so resisted the contrast and saturation boosts that I see applied to many of these types of shots.
November and December ended with challenging conditions on workshops. I seem to have workshops every time we had fierce storms. We encountered Abigail, then Barney then Clodagh in Dorset. Never the less we made the best of whatever mother nature threw at us and these last two shots came from the Lake District on my date with Abigail. Silver Birch are my favourite tree and it was hard to resist their twisted trunks shaped by the elements but majestic persona.
The weather contrasts on this day were wide varying going from rain to hail to sunshine all within 15mins. This type of variable weather is perfect, in my view, for landscape photography as it brings an array of different lighting and moods across any scene. In this image you can see the approaching weather coming across Derwent towards us as we stand in a glimpse of sunlight.
It's always hard to try and pick any number of images that represent a year. I could have course shown you images that received the most likes and feedback so sorry there are no firework shots, Chesterton windmill, bluebell woodlands, lake reflections, sunsets or sunrises. I have of course made those shots again this year but if you compare them to the same shots I took of them in 2014 I doubt you'd differentiate them.
These 15 don't represent a departure from such shots but reflect more personal echoes of my life and it's influences in 2015. Those of you who know me will have heard me bang the drum constantly about make images that reflect your personal journey through life and your individual interpretation of any subject and situation. My year has had it's share of anxiety, hopes and dreams like anyone else's so if there is one thing I have learnt this year it's to stay on course with what is authentic to you, express what you want to express without fear or judgement and always be willing to do it differently to the way you have done it before.
I am one of those people who always finds it hard to do that new year resolution thing - I think life is unpredictable most of the time and I am a believer in being present in the now and not thinking about tomorrow to much, wherever possible. All I hope for next year is to carry on growing, developing and remaining a student of life as well as our art.
I hope many of you will continue to share that journey.
Have a great festive break and I look forward to sharing our journeys together next year.