After so many trips to Yosemite it was great to explore a new part, Hetch Hetchy. The valley was almost like a smaller replica of Yosemite Valley but somehow knowing the reservoir was man-made takes the shine off the landscape. Still, the waterfalls were incredible and camping under the stars is always good for the soul.
Napa isn't a place you normally associate with redwoods, but in the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park there's an amazing grove of them hiding in the forest. Well worth the hike in.
Yorkshire Puddings ... An apologetic c90 British-themed mixtape for Anglophiles.
"The British nation is unique in this respect. They are the only people who like to be told how bad things are, who like to be told the worst."
The Smiths, Babyshambles, The La's...
This weekend we went on a hike in Napa to Zim Zim Falls. The waterfall itself was impressive, but the sat in the shade and the trees around it made it impossible to get the shot I wanted. On the way home, however, we noticed a huge bird and stopped for a better look. It turned out to be an osprey. I don't think I've seen one before in the wild so getting a photograph made up for the earlier failure.
A cold, wet afternoon on a deserted beach. Just the way I like it!
Pigeon Point Lighthouse was a further south than I usually wander in the Bay Area to take photos, but it was worth the drive, despite the overcast weather. The obvious vantage point was on the bluffs nearby, but I wanted to get a shot from the rocks below. It was difficult to find somewhere the cliffs didn't obscure the tower, especially before it got dark, but one spot was possible with a wide-angle lens.
So far in 2017 I've only managed one real photo trip, in part due to the weather. I headed up to Point Reyes this weekend, stopping at a couple of well-worn locations. I found myself on South Beach in time for a glorious sunset, but unfortunately I didn't catch it as well as I hoped. By the time I worked out a plan and got things set up the last embers of the day were already dissolving in the sky. I'll be back though.
- High Times, Home Recordings – Howie Payne
- Blackstar – David Bowie
- Hamburg Demonstrations – Peter Doherty
- Distance Inbetween – The Coral
- Good Times! – The Monkees
- Every Now & Then – Jaguar Ma
- Apricity – Syd Arthur
- Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied – The Fratellis
- Blue and Lonesome – The Rolling Stones
- Wildflower – The Avalanches
Ever since I moved to California I’ve been edging closer to something with my photography without articulating it or settling on something definitive. I’ve been improving technically and focused on the natural world as subject matter, but that doesn’t seem enough anymore; I want to express something of myself in my photos and approach it as an artist. When Ansel Adams created ‘Monolith, the Face of Half Dome’ in 1927 he fulfilled his vision and truly expressed himself for the first time. I’ve been trying to do the same, but my recent photograph of Black Sands Beach is the first time I really felt like I put something of myself into the image. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to progress, but this isn’t an artist’s statement—I need to create to the work first—this is simply my attempt to distill my ideas into a clear vision and a path I want to explore in 2017.
There are two aspects to my ideas: my visual style and my voice. Inevitably, though, the two are intertwined. The last time I wrote about expressing myself I concluded that as an immigrant a big part of my photography was building a relationship with the place I live, so that’s framed much of my thinking and provided the traditional landscape as a starting point. Stepping into years of tradition comes with an in-built sense of belonging and provides direct access to a shared cultural experience. Ultimately, however, I need to evolve or defy that framework to express what is uniquely important to me about this place.
Ultimately, I choose to photograph the natural world because I think it’s beautiful, but, if I’m honest with myself, the reasons why are more complex. There’s a sense of loneliness in being a newcomer anywhere, but bizarrely it’s more acute when surrounded by people and the city. In those situations you have to face up to the disconnect, but in the wilderness if feels somehow appropriate and as an introvert I can embrace that solitude. I need to capture that mixture of loneliness, joyful solitude and belonging in my landscapes.
It feels like I have contrasting emotions in the outdoors, but there’s an inherent duality in all aspects of my life. I’m from one place but live in another, and while I spend most of my life in the city I feel at ease away from it. With the recent election, a deep division in this country is ever-present too. There are a couple of methods I aim to capture that in my photography. The first is through timing. The transition from day to night, night to day often brings the most interesting light but it shows a place caught between two states. The second way found in ecotones. Focusing on the natural transition between two biological communities—land to ocean or forest to meadow—can highlight duality.
As I study the landscape before me I’m often faced with vast and epic scenery. Traditional landscape views often strive for grandeur and frame as much as possible, but I find myself trying to get closer to the details. To build an intimacy with a place means feeling its textures and filling your senses with everything it has to offer. Positioning myself and the camera low to the ground is another way to get closer to the land and force a depth into the frame. Selecting a depth of field that focuses on the immediate sometime adds to the dual lines of tension while capturing the intimate quality I’ve been looking for.
The role of people in my photography are significant by their absence. Two of the artists I admire the most have an interesting take on the subject. Edward Hopper’s landscapes were visions of the frontier: a fundamental part of the American identity. Civilization and nature meet, but they exist to provide a juxtaposition. Hopper famously said, “What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house” but a significant part of that quote is the clause the preceded it, “Maybe I'm not very human”. His paintings contain isolated people and buildings as evidence of humanity, but there’s an uneasy relationship and inherent tension. I like that.
By contrast, people are often missing from Ansel Adams’ work entirely as he photographed landscapes that appeared to be pristine and untouched. Other photographers, like Roger Minick, have poked fun at that myth by showing the same landscapes with tourists in frame. But the interesting thing is that he was striving for beauty through a vision of wilderness, but by today’s standards that can receive a different interpretation. In National Geographic, Timothy Egan recently described how inner-city kids saw an iconic view of Grand Teton National Park, "bathed in glorious evening light”, but thought the vision was “scary ... Empty. Forbidding. Not welcoming. They said, ‘Where are all the people?’” When I see a deserted landscape I’m happy, but I also embrace the notion that a place which makes my heart soar could strike dread into someone else’s. I want my landscapes to be free of people, or failing that, I want any trace of civilization in my photography to feel adrift or isolated.
Space is a big consideration for any photographer but I’ve also been thinking a lot about time. When I look at a landscape I like to imagine it as untouched. Maybe I’m looking for something that’s not there, at least not any more, but if I imagine it to be virgin then it doesn’t come weighted with the identity other people have given it. Trying to capture something with a timeless quality uproots it from the moment and I can lay as much claim to it as anyone else. Long exposures have become a common feature of my photography because those shots aren’t just about the fraction of a second when I opened the shutter. It’s one way to uproot the scene in time. I find something comforting about a scene that’s not anchored in one frozen moment. And what I capture is real, everything in the frame is there–stars are trailing overhead, tides come and go, light is changing–but it’s a different kind of seeing.
Maybe there’s an element of mid-life crisis in my thinking as I try to control time, to slow it or stop it, but I don’t think so. For my whole life I’ve felt out of sync with the rest of the world. I’ve always sympathized with the Brian Wilson/Tony Asher line, “I guess I just wasn't made for these times.” I feel a tension between modern life and the natural world and that relates directly back to the idea of ecotones, and as Timothy Egan wrote in the article mentioned above, “What could be a better antidote to our 8-second attention span than a landscape that is nearly 2 billion years old?”
Finally, in terms of personal aesthetics it’s no surprise that I think like a designer. I’ve come to realize that I’m drawn to simple and graphic compositions, so deciding what to frame is also about choosing what not to frame. I make an effort to remove anything distracting. I’m searching for something minimal because it’s an extension of how I think about the natural world and timeless landscapes. It also allows me to focus on the feel of a place.
When it comes to color I’ve tried a range of palettes and been pleased with many, from vibrant to muted, but the system that seems to make sense is something natural but selective because it relates directly to everything else I’m trying to accomplish.
Working through all of these aspects hasn’t set me apart from every other photographer or broken new ground, but arranging my thoughts has allowed me to work out how I can create photos that are consistent in terms of style and concept, and most importantly, an expression of myself. That’s what I’ll be working on in 2017.
- The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel – Anthony Horowitz
- Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
- Moriarty: A Novel – Anthony Horowitz
- The Long Walk – Stephen King
- The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks – Terry Tempest Williams
- The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson
- Adrian Mole: the Prostrate Years – Sue Townsend
- The Mountains Of California – John Muir
- Hopper – Rolf G. Renner
- Ansel Adams: An Autobiography – Ansel Adams
A visit to Yosemite is always special, but spending a white Christmas there was something else.
Recently I've been putting a lot of thought into how I want my photography to evolve, what I want to focus on, and how I can truly express myself through it. I have a long way to go but I'm going to have some thoughts organized before the end of the year so I can concentrate on that in 2017.
With these ideas in my mind I visited Black Sands Beach today. I took a few photos this afternoon I was pleased with but there was one in particular that seemed to be the perfect cumulation of concept, feel, composition, perspective and color. It felt like almost all the thoughts I've had came together. I'm going to save it for the post I'm planning to elaborate on these ideas but right now, here's one that got close.
Another evening of experimenting with long exposures at sunset.
A couple of weeks ago I was passing Salmon Creek Beach in Bodega Bay when I noticed a shipwrecked fishing boat in the hazy distance. I made a mental note to come back when I had more time to take some photos. This evening I made it out there, and while the weather wasn't ideal, I made the most of it taking some shots through sunset and into the blue hour. Looking up the story of the boat it's kind of a sad tale, but it made for an interesting set of pictures that reflected some of the ideas I've been forming recently about the kind of photos I want to focus on.
One of the best things about living in San Francisco is that, with a bit of effort, you can visit Yosemite all year round. I've been fortunate enough to go in August, September and October of this year, gradually watching the seasons change, and introducing friends and family to the place.
The highlight has been two trips to Glacier Point, once by car before the road closed for winter, and once hiking up from the valley floor. Watching the last light of the day illuminate Half Dome is incredible.