Inside this issue
Solitude, Socialisation & Collaboration
Sharing your creative process
Steve Ball is a landscape and nature photographer based in the NW of England, ideally situated between the three National Parks of Snowdonia, the Peak District, and the Lake District. His emotional connection with nature continues to grow bringing with it a greater appreciation of land, wildlife, the coast, and the environment. His principal aim is to create images which illustrate his love for the natural world, and which tell his story of what he sees, and what he feels. His philosophy is to take photographs which first and foremost appeal to himself, if they are of interest or provide enjoyment to others then that is a welcome bonus. In more recent times his focus has shifted from the wider vista to a more intimate perspective, creating images characterised by texture, patterns and form.
In my previous article, “Landscape Photography - Solitude or Isolation?” (On Landscape Issue 280), I presented a view that there is a tangible difference between solitude and isolation in the context of landscape and nature photography. I suggested that there are times when being alone in nature is not always a positive experience, particularly for those people who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
I have given this topic further thought both during and after a recent trip to visit a very close friend, Klaus, in Germany. We spent a whole week together, spending hours every day out in the field, sometimes creating images while standing a few yards apart, other times in the same general area but not within sight of each other. Reflecting on that time, I have recognised and appreciated just how positive and valuable the experience was.
During the week, I did not experience one moment of isolation. I could choose to be on my own, to have periods of quiet solitude and reflection, or I could choose to spend time in the company of my friend. Even in those times, I still experienced a sense of solitude when working on a specific image. Composing the image, considering the technical requirements, and then finally the act of reviewing the image is a complete process that stimulates solitude, that feeling of timelessness when you are completely absorbed in your practice and when the world outside of your own mind is temporarily switched off and forgotten. Between images, I benefitted greatly from the social aspects of practising my photography alongside a special friend, a like-minded person with aligned values about nature, the environment, and our approach to photography. The practice of seeking critical feedback from someone you respect is incredibly valuable and rewarding, and in my case only served to stimulate my creativity and willingness to adopt techniques that previously I might have been closed to.
Spending time practising photography with another person can simply represent an act of socialisation. However, it can also mean so much more. It can lead to a longer-term collaboration with a much deeper and more rewarding relationship. Sharing your creative process, your ideas, and your images and offering critical feedback are all advantageous but rely upon a great deal of trust. Trust that the feedback you offer and that which you receive is given with the best of intent and will result in learning and insight rather than a loss of confidence. In my experience, a high level of trust is needed for a collaborative relationship to work. Therefore, it is very important to ensure your values and motives are aligned.
Over time, a collaboration can grow beyond the simple act of spending time together in the field. My friendship with Klaus started when we met at a workshop in Torridon in 2019, and the friendship has grown since then but also has developed into a photographic collaboration. In addition to meeting up to take photographs or attend workshops together, we have a regular video call where we take the opportunity to review and critique each other’s images, shared in advance. .
In conclusion, I stand by my assertion that the solitary practice of photography is not always beneficial to our wellbeing, and that there are some significant benefits to be gained from spending time with other photographers in the field or in the wider aspects of photography. I know that there will always be days when that feeling of isolation will visit me and will fill me with sadness, anxiety, and possibly temporary depression. That is simply the way it is, and the challenge is to manage and minimise those occasions in whatever way possible. For me personally, I will look for more opportunities to spend time out in the field with others, not at the expense of seeking solitude, but as an antidote to isolation, and for the undoubted benefits of friendship, support, and personal development.