Darren Lewey: Medium Format Landscape Photography and Abstracts in Morocco

All images and text by Darren Lewey. Used with permission.

I’m a photographer based in Morocco running tours and workshops within a day’s drive which includes Andalusia, Spain. I guess I’m strongly tempted to first explore locations that are closer to me than far-flung ones. It’s part of my ethos that there are things around that are photographically interesting and getting to know places a little bit can help. When I’m not teaching then I’m dedicated to personal portfolio development which I’ve been doing for the past year. Before that I had little time to set aside for my own work with developing my business and historically working in UK education and film making. For many years I didn’t pick-up a stills camera. That changed last year when I bought a Pentax 645z. I’ve always been an advocate of medium format but with no processing options in Morocco my 67 was unused. I’d been limited to older crop sensor technology and it didn’t inspire. I use natural light and a range of prime lenses.

I enjoy nature, I’m not a city person. I like the ability to work in quietness. For the included portfolio, Andalusia, I set myself the task of producing images in three zones during the space of two weeks in May 2017. Each of the areas offered very different challenges but I wanted to capture the texture of the region.

Why did you get into photography?

At school one of my friends told me about an after school photo club with our science teacher. The processing room was a store cupboard at the back of the lab. There was only about 4 boys who were going. I remember being given a roll of b&w film and returning the following week. Another boy guessed at an exposure of 4 seconds on the enlarger and hey presto a photo appeared of trees from my local wood, a fluke and evidently the best print they’d seen. Success encourages and at 14 I found something I seemed to be good at. Over the next 5 years I practiced photography with a darkroom in my bedroom at home, before I eventually went to college.

What photographers are your biggest influences?

Initially I was a fan of Walker Evans mainly for the detail, banality and for his greys. Ansel Adams for his stunning technique of course. Ralph Gibson for his abstract curves although that was laughed at during my interview for art school. In those days photography still wasn’t consider an at form. I also admired Harry Callahan and John Blakemore, one of my college tutors. More recently I’ve become an admirer of David Ward’s photography.

How long have you been shooting?

Since 1982 with a 35mm and 1984 with medium format.

Why is photography and shooting so important to you?

I’ll start with the process. All kinds of photography requires being in the zone, fully focused and developing ways of framing the world around to use several puns. In essence the concentration is rewarding for our minds. Also what follows is the feeling of achievement and sometimes the acute sense of disappointment. Photography is also for me about capturing, revealing and preserving as well as pushing oneself to excel at something. If I now don’t photograph for a couple of weeks I start to miss it.

Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?

Both. For landscapes I consider I’m more of a creator because I have to look very intently at the world around me and use the right lens and make processing decisions to suit. It also requires that I see the potential for an image with the whole process in mind. For portraits I feel like I’m documenting, eliminating all the negative aspects that can weaken photos such as poor lighting, thinking about framing and annoying elements in the background etc.

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?

For landscapes it’s about finding locations that catch my eye, can I work with this place, can I see things here that I can make images from. I always have the abstract in mind which narrows things down a lot. If I’m driving then I have to make decisions quickly! Abstract Expressionist treatment of pictorial space as a dense, compressed field evenly spread across the entire surface of a composition is one way to describe what I like to do.

Want to walk us through your processing techniques?

I use Capture One previously converting to DNG so the software accepts it. It’s a brilliant programme, I just wish it supported the 645 files and I didn’t have to use an old software copy.

Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision. What motivates you to shoot?

I use a Pentax 645z with several prime lenses. I mostly use telephotos. I like medium format because I can work quite quickly but still retain a high level of quality. There are limitations of course compared to large format particularly with DOF. Historically I used my Pentax 67 waist level finder which is a great way of scanning the scene in a more abstract form and I can still do this with the 645z. I use a Uniqball tripod head which is great.