It’s fair to say that the Scottish landscape is stunning, breathtaking, intoxicating. Indeed, it’s so beautiful that it’s hard to make progress driving through it - every passing place and lay-by seemingly offering a fresh view of the mountains and lochs. And yet it presents something of a daunting challenge to the photographer. In a sense it’s easy to make images here. Rock up in a lay-by, point camera at mountain, click, drive on. A moment of lucky light awaits around every bend.
Snap, Snap, Snap!
I jest but it’s easy when confronted with such beauty to fall into tourist-style photography. Standing in wonder as the clouds kiss the mountains and light dances on the loch, it’s difficult not to be overawed and resort to snap-snap-snap at anything that moves (or doesn’t). A cloud on a rock face? Snap. A tree by a loch? Snap. Huge mountain range? Snap. Waterfall with a big mountain? Snap.
This first week here in Lochcarron has been one of re-adjustment for me. Returning to Scotland I’ve found myself freshly in awe of the landscape, and my wonder has run away with my camera. As well I’ve been scouting locations both for my own photography and for my workshop later in the month. This is often in less than ideal conditions and perhaps without the care I’d normally take making images.
Don’t get me wrong I’ve got some images I’m very happy with - maybe not portfolio worthy on first consideration - but there are quite a few snapshots in there at this stage from all over the local area. And I’m just about fine with that for the time being. I think it’s quite usual to feel a need to get the more obvious shots out of your system to free your mind up for some more creative exploration.
What this week has brought home to me though is that feeling that I need to transition away from this ‘tourist’ mode and settle down to more considered image making. Without doing so there’s the risk of coming away after 2 months with dozens of ok shots - what a depressing thought! I’d rather have a handful of images I am delighted with and that will take a slower approach, repeated visits and the right time and conditions.
Skip This If Starts Sounding Weird
Often when I’m teaching people they will remark ‘I just didn’t see that shot’. I try to explain that you can see the landscape as being on different planes. There is the obvious plane of beauty that usually catches our attention and we’re compelled to photograph. Quite often when shooting an image of beauty we’re prone to think that the beauty is enough and we're missing all those other things in the landscape that detract from the image; our focus is only on the big beautiful landscape.
The other plane is one where the landscape becomes abstract. It becomes a collection of shapes and textures rather than mountains, rivers and trees. It’s kind of hard to describe, but the closest familiar experience may be those magic eye images if you remember them? The little pictures made up from different coloured dots and you sort of had to defocus your eyes to see the picture? This to me feels similar, a sort of sense of seeing through the landscape rather than looking at it.
On this plane things become clearer, simpler and less chaotic. Images within the landscape reveal themselves more readily. To get there demands moving out of ‘tourist mode’.
Onwards and Upwards!
They say that admission is the first half of the cure, so being aware of this helps me to move forward. In truth I know that trusting myself to see and make images together with a desire to seek out something more will stop me from sitting in any comfort zone.
Alongside this I’m trying to frame my thinking in terms of projects to avoid creating a random array of unconnected images. With so much to ‘go at’ here you can almost develop a sense of paralysis guessing and second guessing where the best place to be at any time will be. Some constraints and some structure will help to filter the possibilities in this big landscape to make it more manageable.
On further reflection this sense of fear is probably similar to the creative angst many of us feel, just brought into stark relief with the relatively short window of intense photography available. It’s usual to wonder what you’re doing with your work and where it’s leading you. The difference here is that I don’t have the benefit of objective reflection over a longer period of time.
Oh and just in case the above sounds downbeat, it’s not meant to be - I’m having an absolute blast! I just think it’s good to reflect on these things and consider where I'm going and challenge myself to improve. Better than wasting the time doing the same old eh? Here’s some images to lighten the mood (a little :) ).