Inside this issue
Old dog, new tricks?
A new perspective
Mark has been a keen photographer since his early teens and a career in Logistics, with its associated travel, provided opportunities to capture his first love, the UK rail network, including his favourite lines through the Highlands. A surprise 50th birthday present from his wife, Lorna, saw him sent to Sutherland to learn about landscape photography and he says he hasn’t looked back since.
Currently working on short term Logistics projects has allowed more time for landscape photography and publishing a retrospective book on railways through the Scottish Highlands.
They say life’s a journey, don’t they? I have always enjoyed travelling, whether it is just a train ride to work or a flight to somewhere more exotic, although, with the former, I find the journey is often more rewarding than the destination! Indeed my son has recently remarked that it seems to him that the more perverse and difficult the journey, the more I like it, and I think he is probably right!
In my case, travelling, and trains, in particular, have always been something I really enjoy and my photography began as I tried to capture the trains that I saw and loved. Even as a teenager I realised I wanted to record not only the train, but its surroundings, placing it in some sort of context. In railway magazines of the time, most photographs were monochrome, with colour being reserved for the cover and occasionally a special feature. Naturally, I was therefore drawn to black and white and, with the good fortune of a darkroom at school, the journey began.
Over the subsequent 30+ years, my skills as a railway photographer improved, and when weather conditions permitted, I even dabbled with a little colour. My work was published in magazines from time to time and, after much effort, I published a book of my work in southern England.
Despite the relentless increase in the use of colour in most media, I worked primarily with black and white until 2008 when I started to dabble with digital imaging. Other than holiday snaps, railways remained the primary driver of my photography, although digital technology made experimentation much easier and so new approaches emerged that were simply impossible with film. I found this an exciting time and feel that digital cameras reinvigorated my photography which, on reflection, had become somewhat formulaic and staid. Enthused with the low light capability of digital and still in love with the landscapes through which the Scottish rail routes weave, I found I was making images that were much more about the landscape and less about the train. Even my long-suffering wife was starting to like some of my images, although her comments were usually about the wonderful landscape rather than the train!
Having long since abandoned my home darkroom set up, largely for reasons of domestic practicality, but still with a love of a print in the hand, I embarked on a somewhat fraught journey into digital printing. It was during this journey that what was to become a pivotal event took place. I was struggling to get my finished prints to match my screen so I decided to book myself onto a printing course.
Caithness and Sutherland were wonderful. The weather was fabulously mixed and certainly not conducive to my traditional railway photography, but I willingly started the journey into landscape photography. In hindsight, I was a bit like the proverbial child in a sweetshop and most of the resultant images should really be consigned to a digital dustbin, but there were a few that worked and they gave me a new perspective on the landscape. Since that first exciting workshop, I feel as though I am in transition, now able not only to look at the natural world around me but also to make images that hopefully reflect what has been there all along but which I can now see. In the subsequent years, the changes have been such that if I had to put a label on my photography (which I’m not sure I would want to do) it would be ‘landscape photographer’ rather than ‘railway photographer’. For sure I still shoot railways and hope I always will, but this is now secondary to the landscapes through which the trains travel. Today if I am standing by the lineside waiting for an iron horse to pass, I will be looking at the micro and macro aspects of the landscape around me, searching for simple patterns and compositions that will tell the story of the environment I am in and the way I see it.
However, I am more likely to be found walking through landscapes carefully observing, and seeing in a new way, all that nature provides to us. I have always loved being outdoors, especially in Scotland, where the grandeur of the mountains sculpted by nature over hundreds of thousands of years has always made me feel in awe of their sheer scale, but also at home in their comforting shadow. To be in their presence has been enough for me, but now that I am learning to capture just a small part of their beauty in my photographs, I feel that the landscape can comfort me whenever I open a box of prints at home just as it does when I am in its midst.
Without the ‘crutch’ of wide vistas, lochs and mountains, I have also started to use new techniques to complement the traditional skills I had developed during my many years of railway photography. As a lover of monochrome images and having seen some of the inspirational work of Paul Gallagher and others, I invested in an infra-red conversion of an old Nikon DLSR. If moving to landscapes from railways was a challenge then infra-red was another step up and the old dog had to learn even more new tricks. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of infra-red and the wonderful range of tones that can be teased from the RAW files; indeed I will now often venture out with only the IR body and one lens for company. I have also been experimenting with ICM and multiple exposure techniques which I find can be useful in capturing certain aspects and moods of the landscape when traditional methods just won’t cut it. Is it true photography? I’m not sure I care, as for me if the results are right then the technique must have been too.
The journey from railway photographer towards landscape photographer has been thoroughly enjoyable and is certainly not complete; indeed in many ways, I hope it will never be. There is still so much to explore, so much to see and so much natural beauty all around us. I feel like I am at Crewe Station with trains going to many varied destinations and I am lucky enough to be able to hop on anyone that happens to take my fancy. Who knows where the journey will take me next? I don’t know and that is the very essence of what makes travel so exciting, after all, every journey is to be savoured and enjoyed and, based on my experience, it seems that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks!