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A Photographer at Work – Eddie Ephraums & Joe Cornish

Book reviews

Doug Chinnery

I am an artist working with images full of colour and movement in an attempt to express what I see around me. Inspired by artists, in particular the impressionists and abstract impressionists as well as Chris Friel and Valda Bailey, I work in abstraction trying to capture mood and emotion. I live in obscurity with my wife, Beth, and my buddy, Eddie.

dougchinnery.com



I really ought to begin this review by declaring an interest on behalf of On Landscape. As you no doubt know, Joe Cornish, along with Tim Parkin are the driving force behind this magazine. So reviewing this book lays us open to accusations of bias.

So in the best traditions of honest journalism (now there's two words you rarely see used together), I am going to endeavour to give an unbiased opinion on the book (as I try to do in all my reviews.)

I don't think I am overstating the matter to say that Joe Cornish is an up and coming landscape photographer who shows a lot of promise. Joking aside, I don't think there are many UK based landscapers who don't list Joe as an influence or inspiration in their work. Over the last 20 years or so, Joe has emerged, following in the footsteps of Charlie Waite, as one of our finest landscape photographers.

As such, each article he writes, each book he publishes, indeed, each video he now releases on On Landscape is eagerly awaited and then devoured by his devotees

(although, as the modest man he is, he will probably squirm if he reads this).

Those who visit his gallery in Northallerton leave in stunned awe at the quality of his prints, his composition skills showing remarkable attention to detail and his ability to capture the essence of the land, sea and sky in all weathers with supreme skill. As the Americans rightly revere Ansel Adams, many of us revere Joe Cornish.

So it was with eager anticipation I pre-ordered this new book when it was announced on Amazon. On it's arrival, I was even more eager to read it when I saw Joe reveal in his introduction that the period over which the book was written saw him embrace a digital workflow. As a digital photographer myself this is exciting. It means the technical side of his work has more relevance to us digital users for whom large and medium format photography remains a 'dark art' to be wondered at. (how do they cope without a histogram? And then there is this drum scanning business - it just baffles me).

It is important to note that this book, rather than being by Joe, is about him. The author is, in fact, Eddie Ephramus. He is a fellow photographer, writer and good friend of Joe. The premise of the book was for Eddie to follow Joe over an extended period (in actual fact, it was written over a period of four years) photograph and write about him at his work. We see Joe working at times with his beloved Ebony Film Camera, but also using a compact digital camera as a 'sketchbook' to hone compositions and crystallise ideas prior to setting up the Ebony. Joe has also tested using a digital SLR and finally settled on a Phase One Digital Back for his landscape work. (now Joe has made this momentous move, I wonder how many large and medium format film users will follow his lead?).

I have read and re-read Joe's foreword to the book. He describes his mantra of "craft, art, soul". Reflecting on how he defines the aspects of this mantra are thought provoking and have influenced me to examine my approach in the field. This foreword alone has made the book of great value to me.

The chapter titles give some hints as to the direction of the book. A Question of Balance. Intimacy and Connection. The Search for Order. Perseverance Works and so on. Each chapter shows Joe working on location. It is fascinating to see sequences of images made by Eddie showing Joe working a scene. Often we see Joe's expressions of intense concentration. We see a photographer who puts a great deal of effort into every image. The compact camera enables him to work an area making images of potential compositions until the ideal one is found. Then the Ebony can be set up to replicate the image.

We see Joe up in the Assynt mountains, working in very difficult weather conditions on images for his book on the Scottish Mountains. Although we might think Joe has his own ideal weather system that follows him around, it illustrates how he is at the mercy of the weather as we all are, but it also demonstrates how he will work in conditions many of us might decide is hopeless. Yet his diligence yields images that inspire us to persevere and to be far more open to the photographic possibilities of 'bad weather'. Other locations used include several in Cornwall (including a woodland where Joe discusses tackling the very difficult task of extracting order from the chaos of the forest), Bamburgh, Lindisfarne and his beloved Roseberry Topping.

This is a book that rewards re-reading. I am reading it for the third time. Yes, it is full of Joes stunning images as we would expect. But most of the photographs in the book are Eddies images of Joe working and these are very revealing, showing just how much effort he puts into each image - this is a photographer who grafts for every shot. But for me, this book is most fascinating in the way it opens up Joes mind to us. It helps us understand his 'art', his approach, his philosophy. It has helped me think deeply about my own approach. How do I view light, the weather? Do I work hard enough on location? To I really seek out the finer compositions or do I gravitate to the obvious? Am I too quick to get the tripod up and get shooting?

Could the book be improved? This is tricky. On my first reading of the book I must confess to feeling a little disappointed. I felt the text was too brief. It was a quick read. I wanted more. I wanted more depth, more detail. There are lots of images (and I have no complaints about that) but I had the feeling the text was relegated to second fiddle. There just didn't seem to be enough of it. Also, I have to confess I thought the book was BY Joe, not ABOUT Joe. But that was probably just me being a bit thick.

Then on my second reading of the book I came to realise that, much as when we sit down to listen to a new music album, we feel a bit disappointed on the first listen. However, as we listen again and again we start to hear so much that we missed on the first occasion. The work opens up to us and reveals just how good it is. So with this book I have realised just how much depth is there in the text and images. Eddies insight and interpretation of what Joe is doing and saying opens up so much to us. Joes comments are as always very thoughtful without being drowned in 'art speak'. This is not a book to be rushed as I did on my first reading. It is worth reading in short sessions and then reflecting on. The images of Joe working are also worth studying. Especially on beaches as, clad in his rather splendid wellies, he really works hard to track down the shot. His patience is very evident as is his methodical approach.

My final verdict? This is a 'must read' for landscape photographers. Eddie and Joe have come together to produce a book on landscape photography which is unique in its approach (as far as I know). Eddie should be congratulated for tackling a very difficult task, that of trying to open up the mind of someone else to us. (although to have the opportunity to spend so much time with Joe, learning from him is one many of us would jump at). Both of them have stuck at a task for a very long period in order for us to fully benefit from all of the situations covered as well as opening up to us a crucial stage in Joes development, as he transitions from being exclusively a film photographer through to one who embraces the digital age.

Joe is to be congratulated for being prepared to be examined in this way. I imagine for a modest man, this might have been an uncomfortable process at times. Landscapers are solitary artists and so to be followed and questioned while trying to be creative must have been frustrating and perhaps a bit unsettling? Many photographers also seem to jealously guard their knowledge of locations and processes, being unwilling to share. Joe has here demonstrated yet again just how keen he is to help all of us develop our personal 'Craft, Art & Soul'.

If you haven't yet bought the book, do so now. You won't regret it.

Joe Cornish - A Photographer at Work
Author - Eddie Ephramus
Publisher - Argentum
ISBN - 978 1 902538 60 0
Cover price - £20
Amazon price - £10.74

Read other articles by Joe Cornish



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