This is a brief reply to a discussion on Twitter. To give a summary, Tom Wilkinson has asked ’how much is it [my There’s something in the trees’ series] about landscape and how much is it about me’? Meanwhile Duncan Fawkes has questioned Lucy Telford's comment that ’much landscape is superficial'.
I can't possibly hope to reply to that lot in a tweets nor 10 or 20 tweets, so here's my angle.
Firstly on the question of superficiality and landscape photography - I don't think that's a word I would use myself, perhaps I would choose ’one dimensional’. That's not just a criticism of landscape, but photography in general. I think we'd all agree that there's much out there which is a bit shallow. But my critique of landscape photography comes not from criticising other’s work, more it it as a direct result of living with my earlier conventional landscape photography. What I found was that no matter how beautiful or spectacular there was very little I wanted to live with on my wall for an extended period. Mainly that was a result of the fact that it was a simple picture of something, once I got used to seeing it, I stopped noticing it was there; there was nothing to excite the mind in my early work. It was shallow superficial and one dimensional. That's me criticising myself and nobody else!
For years now I have been trying to resolve this conundrum by exploring ways of adding more layers of meaning. That's meant different things in different series, but that is the unifying factor across all my various series. For me adding layers of meaning, (especially if they are not too explicitly described by the photograph and allow the viewer to wonder about the mystery of the photograph over many years) is the epitome of what we should be striving for as photographers. Not just for the sake of our viewers, but also for our own sakes as fulfilled creative people.
Moving on to answer Tom’s question of how much of this is about landscape and how much about me? The honest answer is that is neither a question I want to answer nor am I capable if answering. Firstly because I have no wish to undo that sense of mystery and wonder; and secondly because the series is about exploring that mystery and not answering it.
This series has emerged as I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear out of my Songs of Travel series. It is still using multiple exposures, it is still centred on the landscape. But as a result of two separate and yet related events it will be the new route for me for the time being. The first of those events was the time I photographed myself with the tree under which my mothers ashes were spread. Secondly as a direct result of those images I was asked to collaborate with Tim Andrews, the Parkinson's sufferer who has worked with over 250 photographers from Rankin to Chris Friel and Alex Boyd. These images haven't been released yet as I don't want to preempt Tim’s blog post.
What I found was that by including a person - or myself - in the photos I added a new layer of meaning and a new element of mystery and wonder. In addition it, for me at least, sets up a dynamic of questioning our place in the landscape. Not just our physical relationship, but our psychological relationship. It asks us to consider who we are, what the landscape means to us.
What I've found with these two projects is that they share a strong element of play, chance and serendipity. There is if you like a magical element in the creation of the images, because I certainly cannot predict the results. Adding myself to the images has only increased that sense of magic and wonder for me, because the results are even more unpredictable and mysterious.
Chance, play and serendipity have a long history in painting - from the Dadaists drip paintings to the abstract expressionists such as Rothko or more pertinently Jackson Pollock.
So if you want to know what it's about you should really address the question to yourselves not me!