on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Endframe: ‘A view of Bossington Beach looking west, taken in the early morning’ by Joe Cornish

Phil Hemsley chooses one of his favourite images

Phil Hemsley

Photography of the landscape and nature is a passion. I try in my photography to record the atmosphere and ambiance of my subjects - be that the upland landscape of Dartmoor, to photographing wildlife or adventure sports from an 'up close' aspect.

During the week I am a Mathematics Lecturer at Exeter College, and make detours on the way home if the light and weather look promising for some landscape or wildlife photography.


Wandering through the winding streets of Lyme Regis with my partner Sarah, passing tearooms and tourist trinkets, we saw a gallery window and an image caught her eye. "Phil, what do you think of this photograph?", she asked with enthusiasm. Before us was an extra-large canvas of 'A view of Bossington Beach looking west, taken in the early morning' by Joe Cornish, for the National Trust.

It was a moment that struck me immediately, a deeply visceral study of light, form, flow, textures, and gravitas. Here was a photograph that seemed to be about a time and place, not merely a documentary. A seed was planted in my mind of how much a photograph could say about something or somewhere. I already preferred spending time outdoors than inside, and despite some lucky moments of making a few interesting photos on rare occasions, with an automatic film camera, I was clueless to how to construct purposeful photos.

With great pleasure in gazing at this image in the gallery we 'had to' buy it. Impulsive but we have no regrets!

For something in the region of 15 years it has graced the walls of our homes and brought pleasure to us every day. It is a conversation piece, intriguing many visitors to our house. People will gaze for ages at this welcoming window through which we emerge into the early morning light on a beach in North Somerset. None of this collective of admirers has knowingly set foot on that beach in their life, yet we are all transported by Joe's magic portal. Stare long enough and the white wall of the living room disappears, we have shared his invitation.

From my Art lessons at school I was aware of diagonal lines being used to create depth in a 2-D image, but the zig-zag of the immediate longshore drift defence groynes was a powerful construct in this photograph.    

From my Art lessons at school I was aware of diagonal lines being used to create depth in a 2-D image, but the zig-zag of the immediate longshore drift defence groynes was a powerful construct in this photograph.
First, we are directed linearly to the lighter parts of sky and sea, via the stepping stone tops of weathered posts. The descent and re-ascent are reminiscent of the cock's-comb ridge of a chain of mountains - creating punctuation marks and resting points on the journey to the sea.

The erratic golden pebble resting upon the second post is powerful, it accentuates the yellowish tones of the de-barked timbers, which quietly resonate in the scattered light from the foreground pebbles.

The sagacious journey to the sea continues with the shoreline guiding us, first a diagonal glide to the next defence, which echoes the angular notched base of the dark grumbling cloud exiting stage right. Further zig-zags of the shore continue the orchestrated flow and are harmonious with the central ragged cloud base that appears to be rather rare Stratocumulus lenticularis clouds.

Onwards to the tall North Shore headlands punctuating the Bristol Channel, as they recede into distant mists. We are left to imagine the headlands beyond, drifting slowly in the mind's eye to where Exmoor plunges into the sea. The calm waters, I imagine that I hear their soft gurgling susurrus - gently back and forth upon and through the pebbles. Imagined gulls mew amongst layers of sound as they glide just beyond the picture space.

Above us we have the delightful early morning light diffused yet directional, the retreating dark clouds. This light is subtle rather than dramatic but it has a gentle warmth. A delightful candid strip of pastel pink in the clouds to the right brings warmth amongst the blue tones. The soft light fanning through the centre of breakwater guides us back to the foreground and our journey is complete. Everything has its place, Joe has distilled the elements on offer for our pleasure like a finely crafted whisky. I can imagine that boyish proud smile of his, as he clicked the shutter.

It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera... they are made with the eye, heart and head. ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Joe’s mantra of Art, Craft & Soul as the ingredients of a compelling photograph, are woven into this image and we see that throughout his other work. His soulful passion for light and landscapes is evident in his books such as the wonderful ‘First Light’, a book that was revelation amongst the genre of landscape photography literature. We see his genuine passion repeatedly in ‘With Landscape in Mind’, his photography and writings are imbued with it as a result. The adage that ‘the camera see’s both ways’ is true – the photographs that resonate with us by Joe and other fine photographers always has some element of provoking our emotions. Technical perfection and beauty, whilst being cornerstones, do not alone make the structure of something truly memorable. Revelations, questions, a hint of mystery, narrative and mindfulness are some of the things that elevate the pleasant idea to the wonderful.

This one picture was the ignition of my curiosity to explore the potential of photography to say something about a time and place.

In the intervening years since I saw this photograph, I had the opportunity to attend one of Joe's Workshops, which he ran for the Bangwallop Gallery in Salcombe in 2011. He asked each of us what had started our interest in landscape photography and without hesitation I replied “'A view of Bossington Beach looking west, taken in the early morning' by a certain Mr Joe Cornish”. He smiled, with a hearty glow of humble pride in his expression and thanks.

The fascination of wanting to learn how the photo held such visceral depth and narrative became an ongoing journey of discovery for me. Two years ago, I was honoured to be asked to become a photographer for the National Trust in South Devon, doing assignments for their breath-taking coastal and countryside areas. If The Doctor could transport me back through time and space in his TARDIS, to that moment in which I first saw this photograph, and then told me I would be making photos for the National Trust one day, like Joe, I would never have believed him.

Thank you, Joe, for transporting us into this moment and for helping me learn to see.

Do you have a favourite image you would like to writes about? We're on the lookout for new endframe submissions, so please get in touch!


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