Friday, 8 January 2010

A one in a . . .

I do love the snow and frost, the mountains and lakes just look as perfect as I have ever seen them. They don't look like they should belong to earth - they look truly heavenly. I want to take it all in and hold it in my memory forever. Compacted snow, sporadically gritted hills make it treacherous. And for my old, clunky 4x4 that I was so close to parting with, it has for the first time been used in conditions for which it was made. First in the floods and now in the big freeze, my Honda crv has got me up every hill and back down safely, even if it is still just the school run.

Although I must admit I have ventured to Loweswater and Crummockwater to persevere with a project I've been working on (more on that later).  However, normally a minutes drive over the brow to get to Loweswater now, due to ice and various closed bridges, is a forty minute trip. Worth it though, a perfect snowscape and barely a person or car anywhere apart the odd other 4x4 intrepid driver!! Can you tell I'm excited!!

Getting in to central lakes is extremely tricky though - much easier to park up on the A66, nip off to see the frozen Bassenthwaite lake after emptying the bottle of water on the windscreen!  That's what many people are doing. And they won't be disappointed.  I was there this morning with several other water sprayers and snappers - you can tell everyone feels privileged to behold such beauty.  Unfortunately, I fear a photograph really doesn't do it justice.  The photograph doesn't catch the enormity of the freeze, the embracing cold on your toes and nose, the surprisingly cheery non-migrant birds (probably changing their minds after this winter!!) and the strange effect it seems to be having on us.  Maybe the lack of sun over the summer means people are revelling in the brightness and sun during this one in a thirty year winter.

It does tickle me how the press use phrases like 'we are now experiencing the coldest, wettest, hottest, silliest whatever for one zillion years!!'.  Do they think we can't comprehend how cold it is unless we compare it with 18 months ago or a thousand years ago!!

Anyway I'm finally reaching my point, something has been intriguing me with regards landscape photography which has been highlighted by this exceptional weather. At the moment, wherever we are, if we own a mobile phone, or indeed a camera, we are taking photos of the beautiful scenery.  As an example, this morning at Bassenthwaite I was there for a matter of minutes and within that time I probably saw six other people photographing the scenery taking pretty much identical pictures. The weather and landscape is making it very easy for us photographers. We have been inspired in our masses by what we are experiencing and want to capture it. Nothing wrong with that at all.  However, what differentiates one photograph from the other if we are all inspired by the external environment with little internal influence.  

I too am snapping like everyone else, however, I am not at all comfortable with having carbon copies of scenery that everyone else is taking.These photographs can surely only be judged on the quality of the landscape rather than the photography skills. If I consider myself particularly interested in photography, my pride would like my images to be somehow slightly better or to 'visualise' something different. I'm not convinced they do. 

My issue is I feel it is somehow cheating taking photographs of chocolate box landscapes and not adding anything personal to the photograph. This bothers me and has for a while.  Maybe because I live in what is often considered  picture postcard scenery, this is at the fore of my mind. Not that they aren't wonderful photographs and indeed photographers, it is just me at the moment, I am tired of seeing umpteen photographs of beautiful scenery.  In my previous life we often made use of photography by the likes of Joe Cornish and Charlie Waite, who are exceptional at what they do, for tourism purposes.  They were perfect for presenting the landscape in an atmospheric, visually appealing manner that was generically appealing. However, this is not the direction I wish to pursue at this moment in time. I suppose I would like to make landscape pictures that are somehow unique and not just a reflection of the stunning scenery. 

The interaction of human and landscape in 'on the beach' series by Richard Misrach, the way of ordering and seeing a picture by Andreas Gursky and the rather quirky approach to landscape photography of Jean-Marc Bustamente are but three examples that sort of illustrate what I am getting at. They are all considering the 'thought-provoking' aspect of landscape rather than the aesthetic. Although I am still struggling to entirely let go of the visually pleasing image. It would be nice to retain some of the aesthetics but for that not to be the preoccupation.

This is one of my challenges going forward and was one of the fundamental reasons I started the art of photography course. How can I take images of my surrounding environment that offers something different? This is my question to me which I don't have the answer for - yet!

Having said all this, here are some of my snowy snaps, similar to many others - ah well!!!

Happy sledging all!


  1. Hi, interesting post - I have to agree - living in a beautiful place makes one want to photograph it beautifully, so it is a challenge to make your shots stand out as something different. For me, I try to find the quirky/unusual aspect and photograph that (not sure if I succeed!). I'm also working through TAOP, and it is helping me to 'see' differently, and I'm working on getting that through in my photos. Nonetheless, beautiful photos by the artists you mention are still worth aspiring to, if that's your cup of tea. Thanks for your interesting post.

  2. I find your anthropomorphic snowballs amusing!

    I have enjoyed being out in the snow, you will have seen some examples on my blog already. I have some of the frozen Union Canal which should make another post shortly.

  3. Thank you Selina for your comments and for trawling through my ramblings. TAOP definitely does get you thinking. I think in tourist destinations, there are more opportunities but it is harder to do something original.

    Duncan, I look forward to seeing the canal.



  4. Hi Penny,
    Your post really struck a chord with me as this is what I'm struggling with in the Landscape course. I don't want to take the usual 'pretty' pictures, but so far I haven't been able to discover what it is I do want to do. I know it has to be something that puts something of myself into the image, but right now I don't know how to achieve that. For the moment, I've been photographing a place that's not obviously beautiful or even attractive, and trying to bring out some of its character. This probably isn't an option for you as just about everything in your neck of the woods is rather gorgeous. I look forward to finding out how you move through this problem, and if I find an answer myself I'll let you know!

  5. Hi Gilly
    This is what I love about these courses. We can indulge in these thoughts, help each other out and save our better half's from hours of deliberation - lol!

    Do you have a blog Gilly? I would be interested to see how you've tackled this. Your approach sounds like you will get some interesting results.



  6. Hi Penny,
    Yes, I do have a blog - it's at

    I haven't written much about this particular issue yet, as I'm in the middle of trying to put together a retrospective logbook for TAOP. Still, that will be done in the next week or two and I can turn my attention to the landscape problem. I've decided to take my time over the landscape course, as I need to spend a lot of time thinking this through. A big difficulty for me is that it's important to me that a photograph is aesthetically pleasing, so I need it to have a certain beauty (although probably not conventional beauty). However, it's so difficult to produce something that pleases the eye that isn't also a cliche. There are quite a few people producing landscape images that don't fall into the trap of relying on stunning subject matter, but I find I rarely get any visual pleasure from looking at their images even though I might appreciate them on an intellectual basis. There are some exceptions of course - you mentioned Richard Risrach's 'On the beach' series, for example -but many of them simply lack visual appeal for me.

    At the risk of going off on another tangent, I feel that visual pleasure is something that modern art seems to have mislaid, replacing it with an intellectually top-heavy approach. I got into photography for the sheer visual enjoyment I get from looking at images, so I'm anxious not to lose that.

  7. Hi Gilly

    I've faved your blog and will keep popping in.

    I know exactly where you are coming from with regards the intellectual v visual value of photos. The emphasis is currently on the former, however, I see no harm in trying to achieve visually attractive images that are equally thought-provoking. One surely doesn't rule out the other does it??

    I'm still figuring this out too. I guess our photography all fall within a continuum with Bustamente et al at one extreme and Cornish et al at the other. I suspect our preference will alter frequently throughout the course. Time will tell.