on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Charlie Waite Exhibition

Lyttleton Balcony, National Theatre

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

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

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For one of the most well known landscape photographers in the UK, Charlie Waite has been awfully quiet about his own work for the last decade. We’ve seen him promoting both his own tour company, Light and Land, and the hugely successful Landscape Photographer of the Year (or Take a View as it’s more formally known) but we only see the occasional new image associated with other events or in his self published book “Arc and Line”. So it was with great interest that on the day I was to visit London for Paul Kenny’s book I had also been invited to the opening of Charlie’s exhibition at the National Theatre.

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Now a few of us know the National Theatre if we’ve ever been to see the Take a View exhibition. It has various spaces that could be used from quite bijou to rather expansive and I was intrigued to see how and where Charlie’s exhibition would be hung. I was rather pleased to see that the exhibition was in the exactly the same balcony area (the Lyttleton Exhibition Space) as the Take a View exhibition - a huge area for a personal exhibition.

If you’ve ever been to an exhibition opening you’ll probably have experienced the strange sensation that the images aren’t the most important items in the room. For one there are usually too many people for the space and secondly most people seen to use it as an opportunity to catch up with friends they haven’t seen for some time; so I was glad I arrived a couple of hours early so I could spend some time with the images undisturbed.

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In total Charlie is showing 68 images, all of which are printed reasonably large (from 40cm up to 90cm) and framed beautifully in plain black frames for the black and white images and plain wood frames for the colour ones. They are laid out across the whole of the balcony space and, as you can see from the images in this article, leave buckets of room for people to step back and enjoy them.

The exhibition can be understood as almost a perfect split between the well known Charlie from Outdoor Photography and his various guide books and the less well known Charlie - those images that have been secretly building whilst he has been working on workshops, advertising campaigns and commissions.

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If you don’t know much about Charlie Waite you’re in for a treat. Go and buy a copy of these books. A couple are not the best printed books in the world but there are some great insights about landscape photography in them (particularly Seeing and The Making of). The Story of 50 Favourite Photographs is more expensive but worth the money as it’s the most like a monograph.

Charlie has a great talent in being able to see subtleties of composition that evade many other photographers. His pictures have an insouciant perfection that is beguiling and I think it’s fair to say that he has rightly earned his place as one of the masters of the square photograph.

Here's the intro board to the exhibition

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I’ve included a few of Charlies images in this article, four of which from “Charles I” as it were - the images you may recognise well - and four from “Charles II” - those that you may not have seen.

Charles I

Uffington, Oxfordshire

Uffington, Oxfordshire

This is an exquisite example of Charlie’s understanding of the use of light and shade in composition. The ‘bowl’ itself has been used to great effect within the square bounds of the image but it is the large shadow on the left hand side and the distant landscape under a pall of dark cloud that balances the composition. As Charlie says in 50 Favourite Photographs, “Everything is curved and rhythmic in this photograph. Scoops, s-shapes, swells and softness.” I couldn’t agree more.

Autoire, France

Autoire, France

This particular image is one that doesn’t have as much of the obvious hand of the photographer in it but never-the-less it is one that I keep coming back to. I think it’s the caster sugar dusting of frost that evens out the tones in the whole image until the only focal point is the building. Even the path, which looks like it runs out of the image to the left, is linked to the shed via the bright hole in the fence - the end of the path, the hole and the building itself a rhythmic triplet of light all leading to that wonderful orange and green roof; the orange repeated in the leaves of the frosty trees and scattered across the road, the green repeated in the grasses and bushes.

Near Stonehenge, Wiltshire

Near Stonehenge, Wiltshire

I don’t think there is a person around who hasn’t seen this image and had the impulse to find their own hay bales to work with; and probably not a one of those that came away with anything as perfect as this. One of my personal favourite images and, as you’ll find out later, the unexpected favourite of one of our writers. A favourite aspect of this picture is the way the straw in the bottom left leads to the first bale and suggests a movement and energy that works opposite to the flow in the clouds.

Rydal Water, Lake District

Rydal Water, Lake District

How many times has this boathouse been photographed I wonder? Sitting on the edge of the main road from Windermere and Ambleside to Keswick and yards from a car park it has seen many a tripod; and yet I doubt there is more than a small handful as well balanced and with such exquisite light as this. The warmed purple and brown tones of the now extinct Kodachrome 64 accentuate the hazy late summer light and the ripples from the passing ducks adding a catch light below the shed, all taken from Charlie’s signature step ladder giving the image a little added three dimensionality.

Charles II

I’m obviously seeing Charlie’s newer work for the first time in this exhibition (well - most of it) and as usual there is an element of uncertainty about some of it. Just like the music you heard while growing up, the images you saw when you started photography will connect with you in a stronger way than newer images. However, the modern work is edited from a quieter time in Charlie’s photographic career and it would be unfair to compare it with the best of his work taken over a much longer period whilst he was photographing full time.

Given these caveats it sounds like I’m going to be dismissive of Charlie’s new work but I’m not. It’s fair to say there are images included that I wouldn’t have selected but on the whole the work stands very well alongside the earlier work. The unbiased observer would be hard pressed to separate the two I think.

Contrary my usual preferences I particularly liked Charlie’s architectural work, especially that of the adobe or rustic buildings. They allow Charlie’s eye for tone to shine through. The later colour landscape work in general does not work as well for me although there are obviously exceptions - in particular moments such as this version Damme II below where Charlie has constructed a beautiful arrangement of elements and had the patience to wait for the perfect ‘Bresson’esque focal point to arrive.

Damme II, Belgium

Damme II, Belgium

From the same location Charlie produces a softer exposure of reeds and avenues of trees - both favourite subjects.

Damme II, Belgium

Damme II, Belgium

The architectural work is exquisite though as evidenced by the following image taken on his fateful Libyan excursion (getting final payments from friends of deposed dictators is a challenge even Charlie isn’t up to!)

Tripoli, Libya

Tripoli, Libya

Thi is an exquisite exercise in light and form. Like an Escher painting it challenges perception, especially the right hand nested arches - it is no surprise that Charlie’s latest book is entitled “Arc and Line”

Black and White

Charlie’s black and white work hasn’t had as much attention as his colour work. Apart from the occasional ‘star’ image, the work has been secluded in his “In My Mind’s Eye” book. Most of the images here are contained in this essential purchase but there are a few exceptions - particularly Sahara, Libya (below) and this wonderful conical Italian church in storm lighting.

Ostuni, Italy

Ostuni, Italy

Sahara, Libya

Sahara, Libya

The reed huts in this image remind me of one of Charlie’s pet bugbears - don’t break the horizon! His caption comments on the struggles to get the camera high enough to bring the point on the hut on the right tucked just inside and over the small shadow.

Conclusions

The exhibition is a must see. Charlie has more than earned his place in the ‘masters’ of landscape photography and despite his insecurities about his work he continues to add wonderful images to an already stunning portfolio. Even if you can’t make it I would highly recommend the catalog of the exhibition - it is better printed than some of Charlie’s books and contains all of the images at a reasonable size (the smallest at 3 up on an A4 page). If you can make it down put aside some time to let the images sink in - I spent a very pleasurable two hours with the images and would happily return for another look.

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The exhibition continues until at least the end of September (perhaps later) and if you can make it on the 6th or 19th of August you can have a guided tour of the exhibition with the man himself for a small fee. Click here for more information or here for info about the exhibition in general.

 

I've just been told about a video introduction to the exhibition that is on the Vimeo sharing website - take a look by clicking here.



  • John McMillan

    I had the pleasure of going with some friends on Saturday night. Really well worth the effort if you are down that way (actually It’s worth the effort even if you are not down that way). The difference between seeing images in a book or on the web compared to well printed, thoughtfully framed and hung prints cannot be over emphasised. Often the current trend seems to be for ‘abstract’, ‘though provoking’ images and the pictures displayed at this exhibition might be seen by some as too literal but in my opinion they are showing landscape photography at it’s best and in it’s truest form. Only minor criticism or comment is the colour images seem far superior and therefore more memorable than the black and white ones.

    • Paul Whitbread

      Just to be argumentative, I popped in yesterday and I reckon I spent longer in front of the black and white prints.

  • I’m a big fan of Charlie’s work, theres a deceptive simplicity to his images but it doesnt take long to realise there is some very complex and intriquing composition work going on.

    Unfortunatly a little far for me to travel with current time constraints or I’d certainly be checking this out.

  • herb1815

    I had the pleasure of visiting this exhibition and would concur that it is well worth the effort of getting there, beautifully printed and presented images . My only negative is that having quite a few of Charlie’s books etc I don’t think there were any images that I wasn’t already very familiar with, it would have been nice to see some new work , but all the same great to see them in all thier glory.

  • Paul Gotts

    I thought this was a really well written piece, Tim. You seemed genuinely moved by the images and appreciative of a considerable talent. I am in London next week and really hope to have enough time to see it all for myself. Thanks again!

  • BruceMHerman

    Nice article. You mention an exhibition catalog. Would you please provide the. Intact information so that I could purchase one? Won’t be able to see the exhibit as I live in Alaska.

    Thanks,
    Bruce

  • breenster

    i called in today and had a peruse… I found it to be an impressive body of work. Some surprising image s as well as the expected ones. The compositions were quiet and classic, colours in printing, rendered respectfully. I was quite humbled by it all. Charlie has had an obviously, amazing photographic journey, life… all those places, I am very envious

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