on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

From Flat Ground

A Challenging Landscape

Tony Gaskins

An interest in photography became a passion when I discovered landscape photography as a genre. Being able to connect with the physical world be it urban, rural, coastal, woodland or wilderness and have time to appreciate the varieties of light, weather and seasons and how they influence our environment keeps me engaged as photographer.

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A life time’s love for photography grew into a passion for making landscape images about 20 years ago. I travelled along pathway familiar to many of us. One of my goals was to hone my vision and style. I loved to be outdoors and especially in the mountains; it was only natural, therefore, that my photography began to express my love of upland environments. All was well until a few years ago when, occasional episodes of immobility, neck, chest and lower back pain became frequent. Medical examinations revealed a problem affecting my spine including discs and nerves.

About 2 years after the diagnosis I was struggling to walk very far and couldn't carry my heavy camera backpack containing either my beloved Ebony 5x4 camera with a variety of Schneider and Rodenstock lenses or my Nikon DSLRs, zoom and prime lenses, flashgun, filters and other ‘essential kit’ weighing in at over 18kg. It was becoming painfully obvious that my time in the mountains of mountains and wilderness was coming. to an end.

Unfortunately the degeneration of my spine continues with eight discs now prolapsed and arthritis affecting several joints including my feet, hands and shoulders. I was diagnosed in my 40s and I'm now in my 50s. All my doctors tell me I'm very young to be affected this badly and although I need a new right shoulder I'm too young to have one. I'm affected everyday by neck, shoulder, arm, lower back, leg and feet pain. I was spending less and less time outdoors and had fleeting trips to upland environments ended in disappointment and frustration.

I had a difficult conversation with my doctor who suggested I should give up photography (and he hadn't even seen my work!)
Around August 2013 I had a difficult conversation with my doctor who advised that my camera bag was far too heavy and its weight was exacerbating my spinal pain each time I carried it. He suggested I should give up photography (and he hadn't even seen my work!). Shooting portraits in a studio or still life etc didn’t really appeal to me.

If I'm being honest I began to feel sorry for myself and became resentful. I was turning my back on photography, but paradoxically continued to enjoy looking at other photographers' images and had vicarious enjoyment of the mountains and wilderness through their work. Although, they'll never realise it, Joe Cornish's, Colin Prior's, Greg Whitton's and other's work continued to inspire me and keep my love of photography alive until I could accept that I had choices. I could have continued to wallow in self-pity or explore my photographic options.

I live in Lincolnshire and, although it seems uninspiring, if you concentrate there are numerous photographic opportunities, the obvious one being the wonderful coastline. It seemed to me that I could redefine myself as a photographer and explore the alien landscape of fens, coast and gentle rolling hills. It was time to form a relationship my own was my back yard,.

The next step was to accept my physical limitations and begin to explore photographic opportunities from flat ground
Thinking about my options, my first decision was to say goodbye to my beloved Ebony 5x4 camera and associated kit, part with my Nikon DSLRs and downsize. I chose the Fuji CSC system and now have a Fuji XT1, 14mm, 18-55 and 55-200 zooms, Lee Seven5 ND grads and stoppers which all fits in a Think Tank Change Up V2 waist bag which can be supported by chest straps. These changes have allowed me to carry my kit for longer periods and because it's not so painful I can concentrate on making images and not being pain when I arrive at my chosen location. The next step was to accept my physical limitations and begin to explore photographic opportunities from flat ground. Over the last 3 years that's what I've done, concentrate on accessible flat ground, often no more than half a mile from a car park. My vision and style have changed; changes that I wouldn't have considered before.

Having come to terms with my limitations I've begun to enjoy the coast far more than upland environments and I've regained my love of photography. OK, my legs give way without warning and I've fallen downstairs at home more times than I care to remember until it finally sunk in that I must hold on with at least one had when using stairs and I have to take precautions when I'm out and about. There's been one incident resulting in a fractured left wrist and 3 ribs a few years ago when my leg gave way exiting a bird watching hide, so I don't go off the beaten track if I'm out on my own, but I continue to go out to make images and from time to time venture near to the edge of sea cliffs if I think the shot's worth doing, I just don't go too close to the edge.

I find that being on the coast and concentrating on making images brings solace and give me the thrill and peace that mountains once did.
My approach is now to hone the composition and reduce it to a few key elements within the frame, juxtaposing colours, light, fore, middle and background elements to create the image. In other words stop, consider and execute the idea that formed in my mind’s eye. I make sure no unwanted elements remain in the frame and that the idea and narrative for the picture are clear (at least to me). This helps me to produce a cohesive image that communicates some of the emotions I feel when in wonderful locations and, I hope, captures something of the spirit of the place.



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