on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Michela Griffith

Featured photographer

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

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

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This issue we're talking to Michela Griffith, a photographer who lives near Buxton and whose landscape work I originally saw in the 'Developing Vision and Style' books and whose site I saw quite recently whilst investigating women in landscape photographer (a question I raise with Michela and one we'll no doubt return to.

In most photographers lives there are ‘epiphanic’ moments where things become clear, or new directions are formed. What were your two main moments and how did they change your photography?

It’s difficult to choose as it is always a journey and we are always learning.  But for the first, sad to say, I’d say getting my first two rolls of Velvia back from the developer.  I’d taken some up to Embleton ‘to see what all the fuss was about’ and as a consequence was very considered in when & how I exposed it.  This was my second week long trip to the area on holiday, and I had the benefit of reviewing previous efforts and learning from these, in particular to make compositions simpler and less cluttered.  In addition to the tripod I’d had previously, I’d added a set of ND grads, and it was very much a case of things falling into place.  I had a couple of cracking sunrises, but also some soft light on misty days which worked well for macros and close up details.

The second – I could say looking down a macro lens for the first time and discovering a whole new word of colour, pattern and texture, or just slowing down, but these as with other images found or made ‘within’ the more obvious is learning to see rather than just look.  I came across a Dorothea Lange quote recently that I can relate to: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

Your day job is 'landscape architect' - did this come first or second and how do the two complement each other?

Photography, definitely, since my father bought me a basic SLR when I was 16.  Even then I had a fairly good eye for composition, unfortunately it never occurred to me that this could lead to a career, which is a shame as I consciously decided on leaving school not to go into a default science course,  but to combine arts and science as I enjoyed art so much.  To be fair, landscape architecture is a good match for someone wanting to do this.  As with many people other things took over, photos became records of holidays etc., and my rekindling of interest over the last 8 years or so has I think in part reflected the increasing dominance of computers in work life and, with advancement, fewer opportunities to be creative.  My photography has filled that creative gap.  I guess that the two complement each other through an understanding of aesthetics, landscape processes, design and presentation.

Not being a full time photographer, how do you find time to get out and take pictures?

I think we would all say there is never enough time, just a case of what you prioritise and how tolerant or otherwise partners are.  I think I can safely say that not having children gives me more flexibility, and I work a 4 day week for a number of reasons, which also helps, as did moving from Sheffield out into the Peak District in 2007.  Previously my sojourns would be odd days with concentrated bursts on holiday (usually to somewhere suitably scenic!) which is possible if you can drag yourself out of bed sufficiently early and then still do the usual daytime stuff.  Evenings are more difficult to balance though.  My preference has always been to limit travel and make the most of the area I’m in, home or away, so I’m out on foot rather than driving and like to be familiar with my area.  I’m not sure I’m getting the balance right at present, from either angle, and early mornings have been difficult recently, so it’s been good to find something I can do around the village and parish, looking at small details and different formats and black and white.  I’ve always had an innate curiosity to see what’s round the next corner, with the result that my other half makes sarcastic comments about my disappearing down obscure alleys etc.

There are very few 'committed' landscape photographers, do you have any idea why and what about you is different?

Ha!  I did wonder what you might be getting at here!  My long suffering husband would probably say that I should be committed!  Perhaps it is a function of the common beliefs that landscape photography as art does not have the same status in the UK as in America, and that it has to be more of a personal interest rather than something you can readily make a living from, compared with say commercial or wedding photography.  With digital everyone is a photographer and thinks that if they take enough images they will get some good ones.

I’m fortunate that I take images mostly for my own satisfaction, so I can concentrate on the subjects that interest me.  I see sales as something that may offset some of the cost.  I’ve found that even with local calendars, etc., once you start to consciously look for images that you think will appeal to others, it introduces some tension between conforming to expectations and concentrating on the perhaps more abstract or introspective images that I get most satisfaction from.  I guess being a slightly obsessive personality helps too – I’ve always set high standards in whatever I do in the perhaps mistaken belief that you should get on by hard work and quality of output, rather than self-promotion or networking.  Needless to say, I haven’t got very far………but I don’t feel dependant on the approval of others.  (Having said that I am curious about who mentioned me to you, so I obviously do suffer from some vanity!!)

What do you think could be done to get more women interested in landscape photography?

Yes, I did pull your leg on this one a bit, speculating about why it seems to be male-dominated.  I think by nature we don’t tend to put ourselves or our interests first, and I know several people who have a tendency, as I did previously, to think that you will get everything done and then relax / read that book / go for a walk etc.  After a while I worked out that you never get the time for your own interests.  So I think everyone needs encouragement to plan into their day / week ‘me time’ to be creative.  School education probably has something to answer for too – if you show potential you are encouraged to study academic rather than vocational subjects, and it is easy to leave behind your interest in art or craft.  Perhaps increasingly now, you also have to get beyond the ‘techno geek’ factor (and elbow your way past the men reading - but not buying - magazines in WHS to get to your copy of AP lodged firmly in the men’s interests section).

Everyone benefits from praise and recognition, so if you and others know of good female landscape photographers then (on merit as I don’t agree with positive discrimination) profiling their work or reviewing a couple of images will encourage them and inspire others.  You could also perhaps consider how people get to know of GBL (I’d found your blog so picked up the new venture from here)?  Not everyone will be happy to go out on their own, so I guess things like photo clubs / workshops and even photo or walking ‘buddies’ can help here.  (As in most things at school / uni / work it has never really occurred to me that I can’t do things coz I’m a girl, though I am sensible about stuff and I’m sure in urban areas I would now be much more cautious.)

Could you tell us a little about the cameras and lenses you typically take on a trip and how they affect your photography?

I seem to be increasingly feeble as I get older, not helped by hurting my back a while back, so I now carry less than previously.  Contents tend to reflect what I have in mind, as well as recent acquisitions which invariably set us off on another journey of discovery, and how far I’m going or how long I expect to be out etc.  I’ll perhaps double up the Xpan with a 75-200mm on the 35mm SLR but overall I find it easiest to stick with one format and a second lens.  The LX-5 is ideal for further afield, particularly if the walking comes first rather than photo exploration.   I really need to spend some serious time with the Mamiya 7 II as I don’t feel I’ve yet done justice to this, but sometimes it’s tempting to go for the ‘safe’ option that you know will deliver the results when time or opportunity is limited.

 

Tell me what your favourite two or three photographs are and a little bit about them.

I think we would all say that our favourites are ill-defined and extremely variable – easier to say favourite if you apply it to some other category.  In the end I’ve chosen three that have all given me quiet satisfaction from finding images beyond the obvious, and that were not envisaged when I set out.

Time and Tide - The first is from one of those two rolls of Velvia and is my reminder to myself to look behind you!  I’d set out to shoot the sunrise over Embleton Bay, and was greeted by a fantastic tobacco sunrise as a result of a shower moving off the land.  It didn’t seem enough to take cover – at first – but was surprising persistent and it kept spotting on the filters.  Although I was concentrating on the view out across the bay, I did look round to be greeted by both fantastic light and a rainbow between the dunes.  At my feet the low angle of the sun lifted the corrugated sand out of the ordinary and provided a pattern of light and texture.  It was raining when I took this, hence the appearance of the sand.  For me an ephemeral synthesis of light on land, land meeting sea, and tide and time.

Ancient Thorn - I love the panoramic format as much for the unexpected horizontal, and sometimes vertical, compositions that you can find in addition to the ability to capture some of the wider landscapes that it is difficult to do justice to with a 3:2 format or similar.  While you can stitch a series of images together, visualisation is much easier if you are working with a panoramic camera.  Again I had set out earlier to capture the dawn light at Eglys Carnguwch near Llithfain on the Llyn Peninsula in Wales.  The elevated siting of the church above a bend in the river and the encircling earthworks and ruined buildings ooze history and spiritual connection.  Along part of the perimeter are the contorted remnants of a hawthorn hedge, strangely beautiful in the early light.

Wiral - The final image perhaps seems a strange choice from my local area, but again I have chosen it to show that you can find a picture almost anywhere if you look carefully, and you don’t have to have ‘perfect’ light, just the right type of light for the images that you want to make.  The spiral pattern where the wire is twisted to terminate the fence within the field beyond caught my eye.  If I’d had my macro lens I probably would have excluded everything else, but with the LX5 I couldn’t get the level of control I wanted for composition and focus.  However I realised that there was interest in the context, with the lines and textures of the post and wall, and the mundane nature of the detail.  Unconscious art by the roadside!

What sort of post processing do you undertake on your pictures? Give me an idea of your workflow.

As you will gather from the kit, I’m still largely a film user.  I have concluded that I am not by nature an ‘early adopter’, but I’d just built up a film kit when digital took off and if it ain’t broke…… etc.  For me the enjoyment is being out making images, and I spend more than enough time in front of a computer for work without wanting to process all my files.  I consciously chose to move to medium format as I felt that, with consideration, this would offer greater quality than a digital SLR.  I have a Nikon Coolscan V ED that I use for 35mm including as a starting point for the Xpan transparencies which can be rejoined in Photoshop.  I did look quite seriously at either a V700 / V750 scanner, and even contemplated a Coolscan 9000 as I do have a tendency to want the best ………. But I worked out how many scans I could buy instead and decided to give some business to Ian Scovell (found via your old blog, no less) for some of the 6 x 7s and have gone back to him get a few panoramics and 35mm slides done to see how they compare and so I can print some BIG.  And it saves me time on the PC!  (An article on getting the best out of your Coolscan V would still be of interest though!)  I may make minor tweaks to levels for viewing / printing, I don’t often crop given the different formats I use, and I use Nik Sharpener Pro before output to keep life as simple as possible.

Do you print much of your work? If so how have you approached it and if not, why not?

The downside to having digital flexibility is that I don’t think any of us commit as much or as often to paper, and there is always something else to do…….  I’ve had a Canon Pixma IP4300 A4 printer for a while which is fine to a point but not always very true on photo paper (though great for cards etc.).  I tried a few test prints from pro-labs but wasn’t overwhelmed, so after agonising over all the reviews online I bought an Epson R2880 last year, in part because it would take roll paper for the panoramics.  So far, so good, and if you haven’t tried printing big, give it a go.

I’m still looking round to optimise what I can achieve on a modest budget for the calendars to keep costs low and maximise what they bring in for a good cause, and this has its frustrations as I know I can do them better but not at the price.  (Any recommendations welcome).  I’d love to do one with the panoramics, but again it’s judging the local market with regards to pricing etc.

Tell me about the photographers that inspire you most.

More than being equipment led, returning to serious photography was sparked by picking up remaindered photo magazines on a market stall near where I work.  I soon found these rather lacking in creative writing and moved onto a photography book club, where I devoured anything I could get my hands on by Joe Cornish and David Ward, plus Charlie Waite, Niall Benvie, Tom Mackie and Peter Watson.  Sue Bishop’s book on ‘Photographing Flowers’ prompted me to play around with more limited depths of field for macro, and though I understand her point about the flexibility that losing the tripod gives you, I don’t feel I can control the framing and composition accurately enough without one.

What sorts of things do you think might challenge you in the future or do you have any photographs or styles that you want to investigate? Where do you see your photography going in terms of subject and style?

I’m enjoying using my photography to support local groups and good causes in and around the village.  I love living here and it is good to be able to give something back.  I seem to be adding to rather than reducing my commitments, but I’d love to devote more time to serious and creative photography.  The LX5 is a great compact camera and has set me off on playing with square format images and black and white, so I’m planning to keep adding local details.  And yes, it would be nice to publish some more………….I think we all like to think we have a book in us.  (I quite enjoy writing too.)

Who do you think we should feature as our next photographer?

I’ll add another vote to the David Ward campaign.  I have made a point of trying to find some other female landscape photographers - easier said than done.  But worth a look at Karen Brodie’s website;  Lizzie Shepherd, whose name pops up in photo magazines; also (Morag) Leeming + (Ted) Patterson for some abstract images.

A big thanks to Michela and you can see more of her work at Longnor Landscapes.

p.s. Michela is away for a week or so and said she will respond to comments when she gets back!



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