on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

High Light – Colin Prior

Book review

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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Stob Ghabar, Loch Tulla

Colin Prior is one of the the original British landscape photographers. If you had wandered into a Borders or Waterstones at any point in the last decade, his Scotland, the WildPlaces  and Highland Wilderness books would probably have kept First Light, The Landscape Within and Seeing Photographs company.
Originally an underwater photographer, Colin's hard work in finding the right commissions gave him the chance to travel the world. But he was always returning to Scotland where his fathers influence had him climbing mountains and recording their majesty with his omnipresent landscape film camera.
Colin famously (in geeky landscape circles at least) gave up film for a while only to return with his Fuji GX617 in order to capture that quality of light and feeling of colour in the mountains. He's still using a digital camera (a Canon 1Ds Mk2?) but only uses it for his less elongated shots.

Creachan Moor, Ross of Mull

His new book starts with a charming/heartfelt? missive on the loss of the wilderness in people's lives due to a lack of engagement with the ecosystem that he worries will leave the next generation dislocated from the land, and so unable to have an opinion on ecological matters. I can relate to what he has to say, but I do think that exposure to photography of these wild places, the affordability of travel and the huge increase in the numbers of people using the land for recreational purposes should hopefully balance this dislocation.

Cul Mor and Knockan Crag, Assynt

Anyway - onto the photography. Well firstly, Colin hasn't lost it; he has a strong personal style to his panoramas (I'll talk about the non-pano's afterward) which suits the mountains and you shouldn't expect an experimental "fourth album syndrome" book. This is a real continuation of the previous volumes, covering new territory and showing familiar ground in different light. There are some real standout pictures, particularly Liathach and Beinn Eighe with earth's shadow which continues on from the wonderful photograph of Rannoch Moor from Black Mount in Scotland, the WildPlaces (I'm not including this one as I suggest you buy the book to see it, look on page 120).

Fraoch Bheinn and Sgurr Mhurlagain, Loch Arkaig

In fact if you reduced the massive 50 panoramas in this book down to about 35, every single one would be excellent - not a single filler. The remaining fifteen are fine location shots but don't show what Colin is capable of. The weak side for me are the non panoramas (mostly of more intimate subjects) in the book. Although fine as documentary photographs, as the work of a talented photographer, they leave a little to be desired.

Lichens and rowan, Assynt

I have to wonder if the mental switch from extreme planning, using film and considering every shot to carrying a dslr whilst wandering around taking photos means that there isn't the same investment in these non-panoramas; His previous (smaller?) shots from Highland Wilderness and particularly Scotland, the Wild Places are particularly well composed and have beautiful tones. I'd love to see Colin using a film camera again (like his old Arca Swiss 6x9 or Hassleblad) for these intimate studies - I have a feeling the psychological investment that film forces would pay off. Just sayin' (as they say).

Wild Camping, Hallival (to Eigg)

Colin's landscape panoramas are the best of their genre by far. No-one has come close to capturing the range of Scotland's mountains moods. This is a must buy for anyone with a passion for the British mountains or landscape photography.


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