No pictures please, this is Iceland

I spent 4 weeks of the last year in Iceland. I love it there. That’s hardly surprising for a photographer who shoots the coast – Iceland’s coast is … well … no superlative is adequate. But it’s so very much photographed. And there lies a potential problem. I find it hard to dim in my mind’s eye the beautiful images of others. Chips of ice on black sand – done, and done, and done. Mini icebergs floating in still water on the edge of a glacier… also done. Aerial views of colourful deltas that look like the most beautiful abstract art – so very done. Moody, misty receding mountains – well, you can guess what comes next. So, it’s not surprising that relatively few images from my trips to Iceland, so far, have made it to my website. Still, I’ll go back, probably more than once, even if I bring home no keepers at all, and here’s why.

In September, I spent a week in the WestFjords area. It’s relatively quiet, compared with the south coast, and we rarely encountered other photographers. But it’s also a frustrating place because, while the coast is stunning, and there’s lots of it with all those inlets, it’s hard to find anywhere to pull over. Time and time again we drove through the most incredible scenery without being able to stop. There was this one drive, however, along the shore towards Patreksfjord, that has stayed with me.  It was pouring with rain and there was nowhere to pull over on our sliver of road, sandwiched between mountain and ocean. But I was listening to some great tunes and looking out of the window at mountains soaring straight from the sea, shore grass billowing in the wind and foam-topped waves silvering the curves of the strand. It was an ineffably wild place, so very different from anywhere closer to home. Uncompromising and uncompromised. Then, as we swung round a corner, something magical happened; a hawk shot out of nowhere, no doubt surprised by our van, and sailed above us before melting into the mist. An ordinary enough thing, I suppose, but that moment has lodged itself in my mind’s eye.  When we got to our motel and my companions sensibly had a rest before dinner, I walked along the shore for an hour in the pouring rain. I had to – I didn’t want the magic to end. I made no photographs at that place, not one. But it has informed every picture I’ve made since, in Iceland or closer to home.

So this is why I travel. I often say that the secret to making strong images lies in shooting close to home, in going to places to which we can return, again and again. We relax in the knowledge that we’ll be back and this means we’re not afraid to spend time taking risks, trying new compositions that might not work at all. We can move on from the obvious and seek difference, the things that mean something to us as individuals. That’s what art should communicate, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean I dismiss the value of travel. Far from it. I will continue to travel, even if my hit rate of images is lower than when I’m at home. I will continue to do it, with enthusiasm, as often as I can afford. For moments like this.

Time spent developing our own connection with the landscape, on nurturing that spark inside us that makes us want to make beautiful photographs, is just as valuable as time spent actually making them. I think it’s fair to say that most landscape photographers do it because they love the landscape; there’s not enough money in it these days to make it a pragmatic career choice. Time spent feeding that love is time well spent. Put most simply, that fleeting encounter with a wild thing on a dismal day in Iceland made me happy.

Worth it.

fairy falls

Not a picture from the journey in this blog, because I didn’t make one (that’s the point), but Iceland nonetheless.

Not a retrospective

It has become customary for photographers to do a year-end retrospective of their images and plaudits but I thought I might try something different. I’d like, instead, to introduce other photographers and artists whose work I have enjoyed this year and who have inspired me. I am a voracious consumer of visual art as I think it profoundly influences and improves my own work as well as being a very nice way to spend time. In no particular order, here are a few of my favourites from 2016.

Brian Kosoff

I was first introduced to this photographer’s portfolio at the end of last year and I’ve been back many times since. I am a fan of the cinematic crop and I think his beautifully composed black and white images are powerfully resonant.

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Valda Bailey

I bought a copy of Valda’s book, Fragile, earlier this year and it’s fast become one of my favourites. Her style couldn’t be more different from my own but I really enjoy the gentle, ethereal nature of the images she has collected in this book.

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Kozu Books

I have a bit of a photo book habit. I don’t try to control it. This year I’ve been indulging in a collection of small-but-beautifully-formed books from Kozu Books called Landscape Editions. It began with a beautiful book featuring the work of long-time-favourite, David Baker and, since then, I’ve bought every one. Last week, the latest three dropped onto my doormat, two lovely collections of forest imagery by Lee Acaster and Damian Ward and an arrestingly fine collection of black and white images by Matt Botwood. I like it that each book comes with a print that I can add to the inspiration wall in my studio.

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Susan Burnstine

More black and white, but it’s so good! Burnstine’s moody, grungy, square photographs of New York almost seem to vibrate with quiet power. Just me, perhaps, but do have a look – worth it.

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Jonathan Chritchley

I have benefitted enormously from Jonathan’s advice this year. He’s probably best known in the UK for his photography holidays, which are some of the most well-organised around. An inveterate globe-trotter and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Jonathan is an accomplished fine art photographer. If you like well-crafted, black and white, mostly-square photographs, click through to his website – you won’t be sorry.

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Maggi Hambling

I was introduced to Hambling’s sea-paintings this Autumn during a trip to Suffolk and bought a copy of her book, The Sea (there’s that book habit again). Abstract and strangely unsettling at times, her paintings have inspired me to continue developing my wave photography. I’m not going to say any more about that, for now…

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Outdoor Photography magazine

My favourite photography magazine and the only one to which I subscribe. It’s a nice mix of imagery, news, technical and artistic information and thought-provoking opinions.

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That’s it. There are lots more I could mention but then this blog would be too long and no-one would read it! In the meantime, if you wanted to add in the comments below a photographer, publication or something else that has inspired you this year, I’d be delighted.

Waves and more waves

This year continues to be all about waves. I am delighted to have won the Sunday Times Magazine’s award in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2016 with my image, Maelstrom, taken during Storm Imogen in February.

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Maelstrom

I had 5 images shortlisted so I knew I was in with a chance of getting one into the book but the congratulatory email on Friday came as something of a surprise, a rather nice surprise. Yesterday was slightly surreal as Maelstrom occupied a double-page spread in the magazine but I wasn’t allowed to share the news myself until the official results were out this morning. I can now also share that I received a Highly Commended award and a judge’s choice for another Storm Imogen photo, Poseidon Rising, and a Commended award for a third, Leviathan.

Poseidon rising

Poseidon Rising

All three images will be in the LPotY Portfolio 10 book, on sale from today, and Maelstrom will also feature in an exhibition at London Waterloo from 21st November.

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Leviathan

You can see many of the other successful images here.  Many, many thanks to the Sunday Times Magazine for choosing my picture.

Yachts from the Air

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Earlier this month, the annual Round the Island yacht race took place. 1,533 boats set off from Cowes to circumnavigate the Isle of Wight.
Round the Island again again
It’s a spectacular sight, literally a sea of sails. Rather excitingly, I had the opportunity to shoot the race from the air, from a helicopter owned by  Phoenix Helicopters, Goodwood.
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It wasn’t my first time shooting from a helicopter without doors so I wasn’t phased when we took off and headed out over the Solent. I love flying in helicopters!
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Phoenix had obtained a low fly permit for me so we were able to fly fairly close to the yachts, although there are of course limits and I was glad to have my 70-200mm zoom with me.
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Using two cameras, the other one with my 24-70mm lens, enabled me to capture wider views as well.
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I had particularly wanted to photograph the yachts rounding The Needles, arguably the Island’s most iconic landmark and certainly one that looms large in my memories from a childhood spent sailing the Solent.

In addition to the big ‘race’ shots, I hoped to capture some closer pictures that would work in black and white for a more timeless feel.

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In addition to all the many yachts on the sea, the RNLI lifeboats were kept busy attending to boats struggling in the challenging conditions on the day.

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It was an exhilarating experience, and one I hope to repeat. Many thanks to Max from Phoenix for his excellent piloting.

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Tides and Tempests

I had a great time at Patchings Art Festival earlier this month.  I had been asked by Outdoor Photography Magazine to give a talk. The Festival clashed with my prior commitment to Surrey Artists Open Studios so I could only make the last day, but I am glad I made the effort.  It was a lovely event, despite the relentless rain (where has summer gone?). I wasn’t nervous about talking as I am accustomed to giving presentations but I did wonder if anyone would bother to attend. I needn’t have worried – it was standing room only!  I have now published the introductory slideshow from my talk on YouTube and it can be viewed below or here.

I would like to thank Crywolf for giving me permission to use his epic music and Outdoor Photography Magazine for inviting me to talk.

 

 

 

Back to normal

spotlight

After all the excitement of Surrey Artists Open Studios and my talk at Patchings Festival last weekend, it’s been good to get back to the normal business of fulfilling print orders, organising workshops and, last but most definitely not least, a couple of much-needed coastal trips. The light wasn’t especially awesome this week, certainly nothing as dramatic as I had on my last trip before Open Studios (above) but, as I said at my talk on Sunday, even if you come home with nothing very special on your memory card, a day by the sea is never wasted. Psychological batteries recharged.

Below are a couple of pictures of our studio in action.

Open Studio event

It’s been a while since my last blog post, but I haven’t been idle. Among the many projects on the go, this coming week sees me participating in Surrey Artists’ Open Studios for the first time. Together with my friend, Jenifer Bunnett, I am opening my studio to the public. The Open Studios project offers the public access to artists and makers by visiting studios, meeting artists and makers, browsing completed works and learning about their method and work in progress.  Our first open day is tomorrow, Sunday 5th June, and our studio is ready and waiting.  In addition to sharing our printed work, there’s a slideshow of other photographs, a demonstration of the on-camera filter system we both use, and drinks and homemade cake served in my courtyard garden (weather permitting!).  If you are able to make it, you will be very welcome. Dates and opening times in the flyer below.

SAOS flyer