My three favourite photographs of 2017.
Here I’m finally beginning to distil from my work my own sense of style; my choice of these three images brings together for me what I feel represents what I now strive to achieve with my photography. Robert Adams (Beauty in Photography) writes of great landscape photography bringing together geography, autobiography, and metaphor to reinvigorate a sense of life, of what matters in the world. While a very great deal has happened in photography, and the wider world, since the book originated in the mid-70s, photography remains for me the best and most direct expression of my own cultural, creative engagement with the world around me.
What I choose to frame, and how I articulate what a frame contains, is a very personal distillation of myself, my own experiences, and my own values, hence an autobiography of sorts. My decision, in my best work, to choose to work with film, and to represent a natural landscape either bereft of human elements or containing human elements that are deliberately old, decaying, puzzling, or unfamiliar, is part geography and part metaphor: an eagerness to use photographic images to represent the natural environment in ways that allow it to seem to speak back, to represent itself and its own cultural power, to allow objects and spaces to transcend time in order to testify to a very validation of culture, especially in a broader context where the arts matter more and more in the face of a wider unwillingness – in certain quarters (…) – to recognize the value of thought and thoughtfulness about nature, culture, and the arts, for its own sake.
It is no real surprise that all three of these images were shot on 5×4 Velvia 50 slide film – I’ve now become comfortable with the technical challenges of shooting slide film, and have now understood the creative opportunities it affords. What I’d like to explore further in future is how best to achieve what I would consider similarly impressive results with black and white film. In some ways this ought to be easier, given the way in which absence of colour allows for a greater sense of distillation, but the challenges of the diverse opportunities offered by film choice, exposure and processing decisions – especially now I’ve started to home-process all my sheet film – are aspects I’m really only beginning to explore.
Image 1. Hermaion: Lyre Tree (Glen Nevis)
Filmic colour creates the beauty, as well as an atemporal or otherwordly quality in the natural enhancement of the colour contrasts. Composition and framing emphasize the metaphorical quality of the shaping of the birch tree, recalling the curving shape of an ancient musical instrument. The result is an uncanny feeling of nature having organically created something fundamentally artistic, indeed musical – almost an uncanny found object, an hermaion of sorts (from the ancient Greek: a gift from Hermes, an unexpected piece of luck, a godsend). A great coming-together of filmic colour and an excellent compositional opportunity.
Image 2. Haunted by Larches (Hospital Lochan, Glencoe)
Filmic colour here again creates the beauty, and the composition and framing – including the decision to invert and crop the slide – emphasize the uncanny haunting feel of the trees. As before, filmic quality and compositional decisions work together to generate a sense of the uncanny.
Image 3. Shack, Sea, Sky (Porth Ysgaden, North Wales)
The colour film brings out a subtle beauty to the balance between the blues and greens, and the composition and framing mirror the oddity of the structure, emphasizing a sense of timelessness, incongruity, and strangeness.