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.

Where land meets sea

The last few weeks have been hard and blogging has been far from my mind. But I wanted to share this slideshow, which I made for a talk I gave in the summer at the Shed Gallery’s ‘Muse’ exhibition in Lyme Regis. It features a few of my own pictures, but mostly inspirational images by other photographers that I selected from the Gallery, on the theme of my talk, coastal photography. Being a very proud Mummy, I must add that my favourite thing about it is the music, an original score composed and recorded for the talk by my very talented daughter, Maggie Talibart. Not too shabby for thirteen!

Yellow field before the storm

cottage and rapeseed field, Alfriston, East Sussex

Many of my images are inspired by paintings. I think the same basic compositions work in both mediums.  In this image I was inspired by the watercolours of Michael Morgan RI, an artist whose work I greatly enjoy.  I was recently lucky enough to acquire two of his originals which, together with one of his limited edition prints now provide permanent inspiration on my walls.

Which artists inspire you?  Feel free to post examples of your work below.  I find the crossover between genres interesting and would love to see what influences my fellow photographers!

La Belle et la Bête

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I thought that this tree tunnel at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex had a slightly fairy tale feel. When I edited the shot I was inspired by Jean Cocteau’s iconic film, La Belle et la Bête (1946). I wanted to create a black and white that captured something of the aesthetic of the film. It was just an experiment but fun to do.

Have you ever taken or edited a photo inspired by a favourite movie?