Inside this issue
End frame: Lochan Na Staigne, Clach Leathad, Meall a Bhuiridh by Joe Cornish
Tony Gaskins chooses one of his favourite images
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.
It's strange, I was writing an end frame article on spec for On Landscape when simultaneously Charlotte approached me to write one. I'd been making some notes about my favourite image which is in Joe Cornish's Scotland's Mountains book. For me, an easy choice. I return to this book frequently finding solace in the pages and it's great to spend time lingering over the photographs.
Although he doesn't know it Joe has inspired my photography for many years. Put simply, Joe's work inspired me to become a landscape photographer. Imagine my thoughts on a Wednesday morning in August this summer when I saw Joe in a crowded Kings Cross station. I was jet lagged and exhausted after travelling on an overnight flight from Florida. I walked past him while he was talking on the phone. I had to shake his hand. I wanted to tell Joe his work has inspired me but I was exhausted and jet lagged all I could mumble about was the rocket launch I'd seen in the early hours of the morning on the day we flew home. Joe had just returned from the Russian Arctic, that sounded interesting. I wish I'd thanked him for being an inspiration. I became aware of his work when I read In Search of Neptune and learned that Joe was the photographer. I found more of his work, as his career progressed becoming well known to us landscape aficionados with his images seeming to appear everywhere.
That inspiration has continued along my own photography journey. Joe's books are my most thumbed photography books. When I thought about an End Frame article, the long shortlist I envisaged was one photograph; the image that stopped me in my tracks when first reading Scotland's Mountains. Some were slow burners, others had an immediate impact and some I knew would become favourites. When I turned to page 38, that was it for the next half hour. I stared transfixed at this image tucked away on page 38 was Lochan Na Staigne. Immediate feelings of envy (why couldn't I make images like that) quickly dissipated to pleasure. Ansell Adams' Snake River, Grand Tetons had and does remain a favourite, but when I saw Lochan Na Stainge I knew I had a new one - why?
I see and think in colour and, these days I produce little black and white work. The muted colour pallet in which greys predominate is striking, then there is the quality of the light; with both lending pathos and, simultaneously being uplifting creating balance and a frame full of energy. I've listened to Joe's thoughts on composition and read just about all he's written on the subject, but it was this image that made sense of what he was saying. I made me think about the decision making processes that were employed. Compositional considerations, capturing the light, the degree of control over the highlights, masterful use of exposure onFuji Velvia, (not the most forgiving film), the use of the cracked ice as a foreground to draw attention and contrast of the rounded shapes of the three lumps providing a visual stepping stone through the frame. Where they're placed in the frozen lochan and how they echo the mountains create a balance that is restful and invigorating at the same time. The sharpness and clarity of the cracked ice is a joy to see and being able to appreciate the technical considerations of such wonderful depth of focus added to my enjoyment. The rendering of the dark clouds and rocks to the left the frame appeared at first sight to unbalance the composition but on reflection, my thoughts turned to an appreciation of the dark tones adding a sense of threat and a tension that creates a new vignette. That new character differs from the tonal balance and the image's overall serenity and in doing so creates a counterpoint that draws attention back into the frame, as well as making me think about what's over the mountains.
Lochan Na Stainge has been a schoolmaster, teaching me much about composing a photograph, and has been the catalyst to me adopting (or at least trying to adopt) Joe's philosophy of creating balance, depth and energy into my compositions.
This is a piece of art that opens up so many emotions. it uplifts whilst creating a sense of pathos, and is restful and energising at the same time as well as being dramatic and simple. I don't know of many images that I've seen that can open up so many conflicting emotions and moods as Lochan Na Stainge, Meall a Bhuiridh beyond does. I first read Scotland's Mountains when I was starting to worry that my mobility wasn't all it should be. After the diagnosis of a degenerative spinal condition, the dawning realisation of that my ability to access remote wilderness would quite quickly diminish was sobering Joe's work became my vicarious access to this photographer's playground. That's when Lochan Na Stainge's became more significant, becoming far more important to me as an image and as a steppingstone to inspiration. Physiotherapy and drugs help my problem but the thought that one winter's day I'll stand on the shore of Lochan Na Stainge is my motivator to maintain my mobility and continue to call myself a landscape photographer. This image is an old friend, I know it as well as I would the lines and contours on the face of a loved one and think of it in the same way.