I would like to mention some of the many people whom I have met on my photography travels and whose help I have greatly appreciated.
A trip with Steve Gosling is always fun. Whether at a group workshop or a one to one he is one of the most client focussed professionals I have met. He doesn’t spend time taking his own photos on a trip except to help make a point. He tends to ask questions about what the location is saying or suggesting - something I really struggled with initially. I think the best mentors have a knack of asking the right question at the right time and Steve has this gift. He has a great sense of humour and takes in good heart the ribbing that centres on his frequent use of monochrome, square images; ribbing that normally comes from those who make highly saturated colour images and Steve always has a sharp response.
It was in Glencoe where Peter Cox first showed me a technical camera and this led to research on my part and eventual purchase. I read and re-read learned articles on the theory, geometry and even trigonometry on tilting and shifting lenses. I also looked at apps that aimed to simplify the process but it was on a later trip with Peter that he explained a simple formula that works and then spent a couple of hours with me as we worked through a specific example. Peter has also used Kickstarter to fund two books of his photography: “The Irish Light” and “Atlantic Light”. Peter is based in Killarney where he has his own gallery.
In 2011, I joined a Kevin Raber trip to the South Island of New Zealand where I first met Christian Fletcher who has become one of the leading landscape photographers in Australia. He is another person who is very client focused and willing to share his knowledge and experience and in particular his deep understanding of Photoshop tools and techniques. For people based in Europe, Australia is a long way to go and Christian seems now to be running fewer tours than in the past and to be doing different and more personal work. One day I hope to visit his gallery in Dunsborough, West Australia and see his images on display.
In the strange way that social media works I first heard of Bruce Percy via Australian photographer and writer Steve Coleman who I thought I had met in New Zealand (but actually hadn’t). I was instantly captivated by Bruce’s images and writing and subsequently joined his workshops on the Isles of Skye and Harris. I also joined his tour in Hokkaido in January 2018. Bruce is someone who takes the trouble to explain composition with examples, assists in the field and then reviews your output later in the day. I still remember some of Bruce’s comments and suggestions several years later. Bruce makes a clear distinction between his workshops in Scotland which centre on learning and the tours (without tuition) that he leads to Northern Europe, Latin America and Japan. He recce’s locations in great detail and is often one of the first to new locations. He has written a number of e-books which are available via his website and has published several books. Bruce is a committed film shooter and is one of the people I admire for turning the constraints of film and film cameras to make wonderfully distinctive images. He is also a very skilled portrait photographer. Bruce and Steve Gosling are amongst many photographers for whom a passion for music runs parallel to their passion for photography.
Writing of photographers with a passion for music I think of Daniel Bergmann with whom I have travelled twice and would love to do so again. He is one of the great photographers of Iceland and also a dedicated bird photographer. It was on a trip with Daniel that I first realised that there is a huge benefit of traveling with someone who knows not only the geography and geology of his own ‘patch’ but also its culture, language, history and mythology. It was on a Daniel Bergman trip one October when the peak season was over and we could change travel plans according to the weather that a volcano erupted at Holuhraun. Daniel called up a couple of people and next day we flew in a small plane around the volcano. It was Daniel who really made me think about whether short trips abroad should perhaps give way to thinking more deeply about themes closer to home. Sometimes it is not tuition but conversation and observation that is just as important on organised photography tours.
In late 2013 I had an email from David Ward that there was a last minute cancellation on a Masterclass that he was running with Joe Cornish in Cornwall and quickly signed up. Joe and David should really need no introduction as they have had a major influence on landscape photography in the UK and beyond. I arrived at the hotel near Penzance a little nervous to be meeting the two of them. Could I keep up and did I deserve to be at a Masterclass? I needn’t have worried. I was made welcome to a group that already knew one another very well. David and Joe are a great combination though I would not hessiate to travel with them individually. They asked participants to bring 10 or so prints for review and discussion. Time was found for critical and constructive feedback from both their points of view. Participants were encouraged to contribute too. I remember Joe questioning whether one of my prints was too sharp. It may or may not have been but to this day this is an aspect of a print that I look carefully at. Both made time in the field to ask how I was approaching the subject and what I was aiming to capture. I recall a shoot in a wood in Scotland in foul winter weather where all the particpants quickly set up their tripods and started shooting. I noticed Joe walking round and round the wood for what seemed like ages. He finally set up his equipment and showed a wonderful image that evening. Lesson learend without a word being said. Both have written and published widely. A visit to Joe’s gallery in Northallerton in Yorkshire is highly recommended. It is one of the largest galleries I have seen and also features the work of other photogrpahers besides Joe’s. David has changed direction somewhat and with his partner Saskia is currently running a safari lodge in Botswana. I remember especially fondly a trip to northern Norway with David and Saskia where the group bonded and blended wonderfully well and I hope that in due course we will see them back in the UK.
Just about all photographers I know have learned from others. This can come in many forms - books, museums, exhibitions, galleries and of course from other art forms and from other photographers. Simple curiosity at the world around us can teach us so much too. I think it is good practice to acknowledge those from whom we have learned and who have helped us on the way and this is what I have tried to do above. In my case I started out with a feeling that landscape and travel was to be my main path but over time I have found architecture, textures, shapes and abstracts to have caught my attention. Many of these subjects are more interesting to me in black and white than in colour. I am doing very different work from what I was doing seven years ago.
I would often arrive at workshops and say that I was looking to “get to the next level” or “to develop a more personal style”. I found many others said the same or similar things and that no-one offered any easy answers because there aren’t easy answers to such questions. Then I read a piece by Guy Tal in Lenswork magazine which he has kindly allowed me to quote:
“Accomplishing the next level beyond craft and imitation must be founded on an understanding that what progress can be made is no longer about improvement in practical matters, such as equipment, subject matter, camera techniques, or the features of processing software. It also requires an acknowledgment that low hanging fruit no longer remain and that effort – cognitive effort – must be be invested in conditioning one’s mind to conceive new concepts and new ways of expressing them. Moreover, it requires letting go of the attitudes – and sometimes – convictions of the past.”
Put another way there may come a time when we have to challenge ourselves to reflect on our own motivations and obejctives; to examine our shortcomings and and failings; to stand still or move in new directions. Perhaps also to reject some of the work we have done in the past. To all the people I have mentioned above I would like to say thank-you. You all did or said something that I remember to this day though you may not. My mistakes of course are all my own.