Contd… I tend to take trips lasting between 6 and 12 weeks. I never take a vacation, because I always bring gear and always intend on shooting, but for my wife sometimes I’ve had success on her vacations. Funny thing is that I have a higher hit rate while shooting on her vacation. I don’t know why, maybe I’m more relaxed. I used to press myself too hard early on and felt a great deal of self imposed pressure to get something. It’s definitely not the way to work, but I closed my studio down to pursue this and these trips are quite expensive so I felt an urgency to produce images.
When I’d shoot in the US I would drive because flying with a lot of gear and film is such a hassle. Some of these trips were 15,000 miles with all the zig zags and scouting along the way. Obviously if I shoot out of the country I am forced to fly and that makes packing a painful process. Having come from the studio and having several safes full of gear I was used to having whatever I needed at my disposal and not having to compromise. Shooting in the field is often full of compromise and going through security with all that film that I don’t want x-rayed was always stressful.
Q. The United States has a long tradition of Black and White landscape photography, with great photographers such as the Westons, Ansel Adams, Alan Ross and many more. What relationship do you have with the f64 style of photography that preceded your own landscape career?
I think it’s very common for people starting in landscape, especially B&W landscape, to emulate people like Ansel Adams. And I did so in the beginning. But over time you find your own vision and your own style develops.
I’m not looking to document a scene, and the f64 group tended to be more literal than I like. I think I’m unintentionally trying to be a cross between a pictorialist and a realist. A great deal of the work that I admire is far more pictorial than realistic.
Q. Almost all successful photographers narrow down their area of specialisation, as you have, but have strong interests in other genres even if they do not actively pursue them. Are there other genres that hold particular interest for you, or conversely, hold no interest at all?
I recently moved from NY to Portland Oregon, and am in the process of building a new studio and darkroom. Because of things related to the health of my parents, packing for the move, the move itself and now extensive construction I have not produced any new work in well over a year. So I am viewing this pause as a chance to come back refreshed. I am very sensitive to my work environment, likely another hold over from having been spoiled by studio work, so building a space where I can feel unencumbered is exciting to me. I am considering producing still life again in this new space, not commercial work but images that are more personal. I’ve been away from still life for 13 years, I’m kind of curious and excited to see where it goes. I will continue to produce landscapes, although the way I approach that genre is changing as well.
I recently started to shoot color landscape, I did so because digital capture technology has finally gotten to a quality level that I am satisfied with. While the B&W work will remain film based, the color will be digital capture. My color work is very different than my B&W work and heavily relies on color.
I also have had an ongoing series of images, very different from my landscape work, and which has had a very mixed reaction. It’s a series of upsetting things I come across on the road, such as roadside memorials and bullet riddled road signs. With all the driving I do these things are ubiquitous and are a constant reminder of the biggest risk I face in pursing my work. I started this series more than a decade ago, but it really didn’t work in B&W, partly because for so many of these scenes the subjects themselves are color dependent. But mostly because I couldn’t figure out how I wanted to render them. My default setting is beauty and I didn’t want to make these things beautiful, so I was conflicted about how to approach them. Ultimately I decided to just document them and not embellish them. It’s not what people who are familiar with my work expect to see.
Q. Many keen photographers struggle with developing a clear style. Can you tell us about how your distinctive fingerprint developed, when you recognized it and what (if anything) it tells us about you? Do you have any advice for photographers struggling to find their personal style – their ‘groove’?
I think a personal style just comes along. I think it’s a combination of how you see the world combined with the limits of your own technical ability to covert that vision into a reality. I think technical mastery is very important, what’s the point of imagining an image and not being able to make it real?
The only advice I would have is to look at a lot of art, not just photography, and produce a lot of images, but images that you took the time to pre-visualize before firing the shutter, (I think “spray and pray” is the wrong approach) and constantly work on mastering your technique so whatever you imagine can be realized.
Q. It seems to me that you do not shoot prolifically, but in a more careful considered way. Do you shoot a lot, but edit tightly, or are you a ‘minimalist shooter’?
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