Well, the answer isn’t 13.7 billion years ago – that’s a different topic entirely. I’m talking about my interest in photography, and who I look to for inspiration.
My background in the visual arts comes really from Art and Design, and Illustration. My father is a proficient artist, and I picked up this skill at an early age with mentoring and inspiration from him. It was clear that my natural abilities lay in the visual arena, and after leaving school I went on to study Art and Design at college. By accident, one of the disciplines was photography. I must make it clear that I was not that interested in photography at this point, neither feeling particularly talented or proficient with the medium – painting was where my focus and talent was. The photography classes planted a seed that would however germinate and flower later on.
I used the scholars workhorse camera, the Zenit for a while, before upgrading to a Fujica system at the recommendation of the photography tutor. I admired those Fujinon lenses, even though I didn’t really understand how lenses could add to an image artistically back then.
From here on, I was taking photos and developing the film in the college darkroom. Anyone who has done this will appreciate the curiosity that soon comes from this. Especially developing prints and seeing the magic happen when the latent image appears on the paper.
Developing film at college soon morphed to developing film at home. Things were moving in the camera department too after investing in my first Medium Format outfit – a Zenza Bronica ETRS 6×4.5 camera. Medium format develop and print equipment followed. After a few years with Medium Format though, film as a medium kind of ended for me, as gradually I moved to digital. Recently though, film has come back in to my workflow.
So where do I draw inspiration from?
Over the years, four artists have featured prominently as a GoTo reference for me.
- Ansel Adams
- O Winston Link
- Colin Prior
- Charlie Waite
Of course Ansel Adams needs no introduction. His work is legendary and will always serve as a reference for any photographer who shares a passion for black and white photography, both technically and artistically. I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the places where he made some of his iconic images, and having used film and larger format cameras, I have a deep respect for the skill and determination required to visualise, expose and print those great works.
O Winston Link is an American photographer active in the 1950s who produced a documentary of black and white images of the last steam railroad in America. He focussed on imagery captured at night, using lighting of his own design and construction, and produced many exceptional images of locomotives full of impact and atmosphere. An artist well worth looking up. Despite universally focussing on Locomotives, there is still an appreciation of the artist, mastering the discipline to pull of some highly technically challenging works using plate cameras where there was one single chance to make an image. We have it so easy in that respect nowadays.
Charlie Waite is a British landscape photographer who used the square format offered by the Hasselblad camera system to great affect, despite its seemingly awkward frame dimensions when applied to subjects that are visually much wider than they are tall. Charlie’s work was a major inspiration, and one of the reasons I moved to medium format. Any of his pieces provide a masterclass in composition and the relationship between individual parts of an image that work together as a whole.
Finally, Colin Prior. This photographer has had probably more of an impact on my work than any other, and helped to develop an interest in other facets of the world of landscapes. Colin’s huge 6×17 vistas of stunning Scottish scenery are an inspiration to any photographer (indeed anyone) who has seen them, but his images offer something extra. For me, I don’t see his photographs in the same context as an Ansel Adams or Charlie Waite. While his images are artistic, superbly composed and executed, the images are almost transparent. He communicates the landscape through the medium – the photograph is merely the conduit. Never more strongly has work by a photographer made me want to visit a place, not to want to emulate a photograph but simply to be there. Further, through the commentary in his books, Colin explained how the images were prepared for and executed. Most of his more epic mountain images required overnight camps on location in order to be perfectly placed for a sunrise or sunset, and these camps took place throughout the seasons. Suddenly, I developed a desire to do this so that I too could capture my own images in remote locations at these golden hours. Photography that not only inspires on an artistic level, but that also nurtures a genuine connection with the natural world, which once sampled, is infectious. Colin’s photography helped reinforce a love for the outdoors, and provided an insight to how beautiful the Nation of my birth really is, providing the impetus to explore it. That’s a great legacy indeed.
As a footnote, it’s of course important not to forget your peers and I’m happy to say that I’m inspired by my photographer friends who produce great work and who are in turn appreciative of the work I produce. Photography isn’t just an art form, it’s a community!