on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

This Land – Book Review

Joe Cornish & Roly Smith

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

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

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When I visited Joe at the start of last year, he told me about a book project he was just starting. We chatted a little bit about it but I didn’t want to know too much as one of my joys is to sit down with a good photography book and take in the whole thing in one glorious session. Over the next twelve months,

I saw the product of various of Joe’s photo shoots with Roly Smith but I still didn’t know what was going to be in the book.

Due to a printing problem, the book didn’t arrive for Christmas 2015 but finally appeared at the Photography Show where Joe was signing copies as they flew off the Linhof Studio stand. I bought a copy immediately and had a good look through that evening and was delighted to find that not only is it a substantial book, it also contains predominantly unpublished images.

Firstly let’s introduce Roly Smith, a writer of some repute who has published over 80 books on walking and the countryside (e.g. World Heritage Sites of Britain; National Parks of Britain; Heritage Landscapes: a guide to Britain’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; and The Peak District) and who has held the posts of Chairman, President and Vice President of the British Outdoor Writers’ and Photographers’ Guild.

Roly approached Francis Lincoln with the idea of a book about 100 of the Britain’s greatest natural wonders. When Joe was asked to illustrate the concept he originally turned it down - not wanting to contribute to the “100 Top Location to Visit before you Die” school of publishing. A negotiation followed and the end result reduced the locations to 50 and to consolidate these into the essence of the British Landscape.

The final book is split into groups as follow

  • Rock of Ages - Geology
  • Out of the Freezer - Ice Age Mountains
  • High Land, Scotland - Scottish Mountains
  • High Land, England - English Mountains
  • High Land, Wales - Welsh Mountains
  • Wildwood - Woodland
  • The Edge - Our Coast
  • Small Worlds - Our Islands
  • Monuments and Memories - The Hand of Man
  • Working Landscapes - Quarries & Mines

Each of these sections then talks about the each location of the fifty that are included.

Although the words in the book are credited to Roly Smith, this is very much a collaborative effort and we see that both Roly and Joe have a lot to say about this country that they obviously love so much. Facts about the landscape are mixed with short tales of their encounters whilst working on the book and the whole comes together very smoothly.

What about the pictures though? (I’m sure you were waiting for this bit). Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that Joe has still got that wonderful knack for finding a new way of bringing together elements of the landscape and presenting them in that balanced but dynamic way we’ve known since First Light. The bad news is that if you’re addicted to 500px blasts of Velvia’esque colour then you may be disappointed. The book is more restrained in its presentation of the colours of nature. We still see strong colour when it occurs naturally in the landscape but on the whole, the images tend to the realistic rather than romantic. Part of this is to do with the subtleties that modern printing can handle in our images and the other is undoubtedly reflects the different nature of colour reproduction between Velvia 50 and modern digital sensors. If you’ve just switched from reading an American landscape magazine or book to Joe’s it may be a bit jarring but within the first few pictures your brain adapts and by the time you’ve got past the first chapter not only is it not an issue, it’s actually refreshingly honest for a change.

The work herein is a good sampling of pretty much every camera Joe has owned - this includes Hasselblad film and digital cameras, Phase One, Sony RX10, A7R and A7R2, Ebony 45SU & Velvia, Linhof Techno, Nikon D800, Horseman SW612, Ricoh Caplio GX100, Fuji S5 Pro and XE-1 and even a 10mp Panasonic LX3. However, Joe has managed to bring them together so that this is never an issue.

What are my favourites? Well the front cover is glorious - one of the best images of the Lake District I’ve seen. Another favourite is Joe’s take on Eilean Donan (Loch Duich), in typical Joe mountain goat fashion he finds an elevated aspect that gives the much abused location some wonderful context. There are many more in here though and Joe has let me include some more of them at the end of this review.

Finally, I definitely think this book deserves it’s place alongside Scotland’s Mountains, Scotland’s Coast, First Light and Gallery and I can highly recommend buying it. Don’t get it from Amazon though - if you buy it direct from the Joe Cornish gallery there is more chance that another book will follow! The book is £30 and you can click on this link to go directly to the book page on the gallery shop. You can watch the recording of the book launch talk Joe and Roly gave at The Joe Cornish Gallery in April 2016.

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