Chris asked me to write about my mindset when photographing one of my recent (and ongoing) projects – Give Way. This got me thinking a lot about why I bother to do this in the first place. I pour a huge amount of time, effort, thought and resources into photography and after dwelling on this I am still not sure I have nailed down a firm answer as to why. However, the need to make something or to be creative has always been with me and for the last 10 years it has been channeled through photography. I am constantly thinking about project ideas, concepts and getting interested in subject matter that I can photograph. I don’t really know why I have this drive within me, but if I don’t concentrate on it and exercise it, I get irritable and can be a pain in the ass to live with. Photography is a way to express myself, a way to look at specific subjects in detail – it is also a handy excuse to get me out of the house and to allow me to speak to people I otherwise wouldn’t talk to.
The main issue I have with feeding this photographic ‘beast’ is time, or lack of it. We all know that good photography takes a hell of a lot of time; I have a full time job (unfortunately my photography doesn’t quite cover the bills) and I have a young family. So going out to make pictures can sometimes be bumped down the priority list. When I lived in the city I used to shoot a lot of street, and the ethos of always have the camera with you and always have it ready stuck with me. Once you have that ingrained it really helps – always looking, always ready. That mindset never left me – even after I moved to a rural area (The Glens of Antrim in Northern Ireland) with very little ‘street’ type scenes happening. I wondered how I could take interesting photos of cows, or horses (many people do by the way, check out Kadiya Qasem and Kate Kirkwood. But it never quite worked for me (apart from one shot).
“I don’t really know why I have this drive within me, but if I don’t concentrate on it and exercise it, I get irritable and can be a pain in the ass to live with. Photography is a way to express myself, a way to look at specific subjects in detail – it is also a handy excuse to get me out of the house and to allow me to speak to people I otherwise wouldn’t talk to.”
I found that as I was going about my daily business and dropping my kids off, I was driving through fantastic scenery in miserable weather and I started to get really interested in the landscape I now call home. It is very small geographically – so you can get around it quickly, but it is also very diverse and varied. You can be standing on top of a cliff looking out towards Scotland with the deep, grey majestic ocean below you and 10 minutes later be standing at the top of the Glens shrouded by fog and surrounded by locals cutting peat out of the ground. The weather can be so bad here, the cliche is four seasons in one day but we can have four and then four again in any order; everyone is obsessed with it and for me it just adds to the majestic nature of the place.
The weather can be so bad here, everyone is obsessed with it. So I started incorporating the ‘always ready’ mindset into my daily routine, making pictures whilst I was travelling around in the gloom, rain and fog. The more I shot the more it seemed to fit my mood; the pictures were a reaction to my environment and how I was feeling. A little isolated; a little melancholic because of said weather. I never set out to be a landscape photographer, what I strive to do is create pictures as a reaction to my environment or mindset. Once I read Gerry Badger’s quote (which you can find below) and applied it to photographs I was making of roads and places I was travelling, it made complete sense to me, plus I could incorporate making work into a busy day to day schedule.
“The path is frequently used as a metaphor for life, employed in generations of church sermons. Do we take the smooth, broad highway, the easy road sought by those who will selfishly do anything to make things comfortable for themselves, even to the detriment of others? Or do we choose the hard, stony road, fringed on either side with thorns, the path of the righteous? Frequently, as in the path of life, the way ahead is never as straightforward as it seems, and the road is blocked, requiring detours of one kind or another. At other times, we can be swept along irresistibly, never quite in control.”
So to go back Chris’ original question – my mindset when making these pictures – isolated, melancholic but looking to expose the rugged, mystical beauty of this place – hopefully the images are packed with meaning and at least evoke an emotive response in the viewer.