There are many characteristics associated with night photography that make it fascinating. We are used to working with a single light source, the sun, so multiple lights that come from an assortment of directions can be quite surreal, and theatrical. Drama is usually increased with the resulting deep shadows from artificial lights. These shadows can invite us to imagine what is hidden. I particularly like what happens with long exposures, for example, moving clouds produce unique areas of interesting density in the sky, stars and planes produce white lines, rough water transforms into ice or mist, etc. Film can accumulate light and record events that our eyes are incapable of seeing. The aspect of unpredictability inherent with night exposures can also be a good antidote for previsualization...
Life is about turning up. The more you get yourself out there, whether you wake up at 5:00 a.m. to pouring rain or not, the more you’re likely to experience the wonderful happenings that are going on all around you. Sometimes the most interesting visual phenomena occur when you least expect it. Other times, you think you’re getting something amazing and the photographs turn out to be boring and predictable. So I think that’s why, a long time ago, I consciously tried to let go of artist’s angst, and instead just hope for the best and enjoy it. I love the journey as much as the destination. If I wasn’t a photographer, I’d still be a traveler.
Getting photographs is not the most important thing. For me it’s the act of photographing. It’s enlightening, therapeutic and satisfying, because the very process forces me to connect with the world. When you make four-hour exposures in the middle of the night, you inevitably slow down and begin to observe and appreciate more what’s going on around you. In our fast-paced, modern world, it’s a luxury to be able to watch the stars move across the sky.
Photographing at night can be fascinating because we lose some of the control over what happens in front of the camera. Over a period of time the world changes; rivers flow, planes fly by, clouds pass and the earth's position relative to the stars is different. This accumulation of time and events, impossible for the human eye to take in, can be recorded on film. For the photographer, real can become surreal, which is exciting. During the day, when most photographs are made, scenes are usually viewed from the vantage-point of a fixed single light source, the sun. At night the light can come from unusual and multiple sources. There can be deep shadows which act as catalysts for our imagination. There is often a sense of drama, a story about to be told, secrets revealed, actors about to enter onto the stage. The night has vast potential for creativity.
In my photographic work I’m generally attracted to places that contain memories, history, atmospheres and stories. I’m interested in the places where people have lived, worked and played. I look for traces of the past, visual fingerprints, evidence of activities - they fire my imagination and connect into my own personal experiences. Using the analogy of the theater, I would say that I like to photograph the empty stage, before or after the performance, even in between acts. I love the atmosphere of anticipation, the feeling in the air that events have happened, or will happen soon...
..As a boy in school, my twin subject areas of strongest interest were Mathematics and Art. Photography combines the two so I feel I’ve really landed on my feet. I originally wanted to be a painter - I seemed to be good in that medium, but I didn’t see myself surviving in England. I felt that I needed a way to make a living and photography is an ideal vehicle for both survival and personal expression.
..People ask me what lens do I use? I don’t even know, most times. They’ll ask what films I use? Well, it depends where I buy the film! If I’m in Japan I use Fuji because it happens to be readily available in Japan. If I’m in France I’ll buy Agfa, Ilford or Kodak. I find that when one has worked long enough, technical know-how becomes almost irrelevant. In photography, it’s not difficult to reach a technical level where you don’t need to think about the technique any more. I think there is far too much literature and far too much emphasis upon the techniques of photography. The make of camera and type of film we happen to use has little bearing on the results.
Time is of the essence, particularly if we're sending images out on social media. The reality is that the majority of images are only viewed for a few seconds, often on a phone or computer. There are so many images freely available that it takes a lot of will power to concentrate and prolong the gaze on one picture at the expense of the thousands of others waiting to be viewed!
Approaching subject matter to photograph is like meeting a person and beginning a conversation. How does one know ahead of time where that will lead, what the subject matter will be, how intimate it will become, how long the potential relationship will last? Certainly, a sense of curiosity and a willingness to be patient to allow the subject matter to reveal itself are important elements in this process.
Yes. The first time, I usually skim off the outer layer and end up with photographs that are fairly obvious. The second time, I have to look a little deeper. The images get more interesting. The third time it is even more challenging and on each subsequent occasion, the images should get stronger, but it takes more effort to get them.
When exposures last hours rather than fractions of a second, there is much time for watching. Sometimes it is a basic concern for security but at others it is a more meditational activity. I watch the sky and imagine what patterns the clouds and stars will make on my film. I watch the water, the leaves on the trees, passing cars, changing shadows, smoke from chimneys, whatever is around. Wind, rain, mist, etc., all have effects on the eventual image. We live pretty fast-paced lives so it is a luxury to be able to slow down and better appreciate some of the more subtle effects of nature that we can so easily miss or take for granted.
I do have strong convictions and political opinions, but I don’t think it’s necessary to imbue my photographic work with them. I use photography as a vessel for visual material to flow through, to encourage conversation with the viewer. I try to present a catalyst and invite viewers to tell their own stories.
The photographer Ruth Bernhard used to tell me that this is like asking somebody how they evolved their signature. It is not something I’ve ever worked on consciously. I think style is just the end result of personal experience. It would be problematic for me to photograph in another style. I’m drawn to places and subject matter that have personal connections for me and I photograph in a way that seems right. Where does it all come from, who knows?
This goes back to what projects I am working on. I don’t have any particular method to my madness. When I decide “what” I want to photograph, I choose the appropriate locations. Sometimes I choose “where” I want to photograph, then look for the “what” when I get there! Simple - no magic involved. I have a theory, which seems to work for me, that the best ideas come through thinking about something else! One of my hobbies is long distance running. I find there is something therapeutic and hypnotic in this activity, similar to practicing landscape photography. While thinking about one thing, and being active at the same time, other ideas float in and out. These floating ideas usually turn out to be the catalysts for my future projects.
Yes. It’s possible to think of photography as an act of editing, a matter of where you put your rectangle pull it out or take it away. Sometimes people ask me about films, cameras and development times in order to find out how to do landscape photography. The first thing I do in landscape photography is go out there and talk to the land – form a relationship, ask permission, it’s not about going out there like some paparazzi with a Leica and snapping a few pictures, before running off to print them.
..I sincerely believe it is normal and healthy to study the work of other artists, and even imitate other’s efforts, as a means to explore one’s personal vision. It has been thus throughout history in all mediums of creative expression. One advances by “standing on the shoulders of giants”. The perspective becomes a lot clearer from such high ground. On my own journey, I have actively tried to see through the eyes of many well known photographers, including but not limited to Atget, Bernhard, Brandt, Callahan, Cartier Bresson, Giacomelli, Misrach, Scheeler, Steiglitz, Sudek, Sugimoto, Weston (Brett) and many others. I have gone to places where they have photographed and have consciously and unconsciously emulated their style and subject matter. Other artists, in many mediums, have greatly helped my own development as a photographer. As small tokens of appreciation, I have often credited those influences openly by including their names in the titles of work. I have done this out of basic courtesy and respect. I do not feel that I have ever stolen from these artists.
Everybody now has a camera, whether it is a professional instrument or just part of a phone. Landscape photography is a pastime enjoyed by more and more. Getting it right is not an issue. It is difficult to make a mistake with the sophisticated technology we now have. Making a personal and creative image is a far greater challenge.
Of course, the whole photographic process has been made much faster, cleaner and far more accessible to people by digital innovations, which is really great. Everybody now has a camera, often as part of our phone, and most of these cameras require little to no technical training. An enormous variety of apps also enable us to take short cuts to finished images. We hardly need to even think anymore.
The photographer Ruth Bernhard used to tell me that this is like asking somebody how they evolved their signature. It is not something I've ever worked on consciously. I think style is just the end result of personal experience. It would be problematic for me to photograph in another style. I'm drawn to places and subject matter that have personal connections for me and I photograph in a way that seems right. Where does it all come from, who knows?
I believe that every photographer, every artist, should choose materials and equipment based on their own vision. I don't believe that non-digital is necessarily better than digital, or the reverse for that matter. They are just different, and it is my preference and choice to remain with the traditional silver process, at least for the time being.
In my photographic work I'm generally attracted to places that contain memories, history, atmospheres and stories. I'm interested in the places where people have lived, worked and played. I look for traces of the past, visual fingerprints, evidence of activities - they fire my imagination and connect into my own personal experiences. Using the analogy of the theater, I would say that I like to photograph the empty stage, before or after the performance, even in between acts. I love the atmosphere of anticipation, the feeling in the air that events have happened, or will happen soon.