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Alternate Realities, part 1.

When I was a boy, I felt as though I was in a constant daydream. I recall one of my school teachers hitting me on the back of the head with a book as I was gazing out of the window. That might seem a tad harsh in today's culture but I didn't mind too much; in fact I found it quite amusing, endearing me to good old Mr Brown. I admired the cheek of it! Moving on a few years to my first day at work as a technical clerk, aged 16, the despair I felt almost immediately is unforgettable. "Is this really it, are we honestly expected to do this for the rest of our lives?!", I thought. Surely life should be more enjoyable, there is a whole world out there to be discovered!

But that sense of being elsewhere, or more accurately, that there is another reality, which we have become disconnected from, has stayed with me. However, as we all do, I settled in to the 9-5 lifestyle. Although as the years went by this was more like 6-6, or more. And so this reality that we humans have created for ourselves marches on and we continue about our daily lives, mostly oblivious to what is happening out there in the natural world.

To distract us further from ourselves, another reality has become available to lose time in; that is social media and the power of the internet. Can you remember how life was before the internet, or social media? Didn't it feel like we had more time? Were you less anxious? Were you constantly comparing your life to the lives of others? I do know that it's not only myself that has felt some of these dilemmas. I often feel as if there is a huge void in my life, and I'm attempting to fill it with hollow distractions such as social media. The obvious irony of the online world is that it connects us communicatively, yet leaves us feeling disconnected. It's clearly not a fulfilling interaction for many people. These alternate realities that we have created in the name of progress to make our lives simpler have left many of us feeling a little lost, certainly unfulfilled.

I needed to find something to make me feel grounded, connected, I'm not quite sure what, a deeper truth perhaps. I travelled up to the Cairngorms in late February for a week and I felt such a strong connection to the natural world here that after arriving back home, I booked another week's stay. I eventually ended up spending four weeks out of six in this truly beautiful wilderness location.

View from my first B&B. Bronica RF645, Kodak Portra 800.

Lately I've been hugely inspired by the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. His works are sublime, beautifully filmed and composed; often portraying the feeling that there are others forces at work. Another truth to our daily routine. Scenes will depict the processes of the natural world in some way. For example, trees swaying in the wind, and often running water evoking a sense of the mysterious. Tarkovsky was a deeply spiritual man, who claimed that there were no hidden references in his work, that they were quite simple to understand. This hasn't precluded armchair critics dissecting every aspect of his films however! Whatever your thoughts about Tarkovsky's works, there is no doubt that he is pointing us towards a deeper meaning in life. That we are not in control, but that life is beautiful in its mystery. I do know that these films deeply resonated with me. In my own work I have always attempted to portray an air of mystery and to connect us to the energy of a location, or scene. Indeed, Tarkovsky feels like a kindred spirit!

Back to the Cairngorms. I'd felt such a strong connection to nature here. The air is alpine fresh. Mountains, loch, lochans and rivers form a vast area of wilderness. Often wilderness areas can feel a little intimidating, yet here I felt at home in the landscape, no matter how deep I travelled into it. As you can see from the image here, I spent a lot of time cycling around. Cycling is a great way to cover distance here as there are so many amazing trails. In the photo which features my bike I just had to stop and take a pic as these mountains came into view. It was a truly jaw dropping scene which I felt like I'd discovered all for myself. I didn't see another soul all day. It was a great recce and a location to return to with my 'big cameras' when the time, and the light, is right.

Decaying Scots Pine trees.

As I've discussed in the past, it can take several trips to really get to know a location and to get to the point where the landscape doesn't simply overwhelm us visually. For this reason I did spend most of my time hiking, cycling and reflecting on this pristine wilderness. I found that the images produced over these four weeks have evolved into two separate styles, both of which I like. So it's not yet a coherent body of work, but that doesn't matter at this stage and with many future trips planned. Despite having two different aesthetics at work, I do know that my priority is to evoke that sense of the mysterious powers of nature, such as in the Scots Pine trees above.

During the first couple of weeks I also spent a lot of time driving around. The Cairngorms is a vast National Park. Increasingly these days I'll depict people's impact on the landscape, for example in the broken roads of my North Sea series. And this portrayal also leads us to further thoughts on the passing of time, usually as I'm drawn to scenes of decay. I'd passed this dilapidated caravan several times on my travels and thought that it would make an excellent subject as there is a vast mountain vista beyond. I liked the thought of that juxtaposition. When I finally parked up to take the image however, I was astounded to see this white horse trotting around. Yes I know horse lovers, it's technically grey, but for artistic reasons, in this instance it is most definitely white! Anyway, I couldn't believe my luck! This would surely make an excellent black + white image, and I'm quite pleased with the result. In the end I opted on a scene which didn't include the mountains. I think this composition is made a little more intimate and doesn't require any further impact. At least those are my thoughts at this stage. I also have an alternative version with the mountain scene; time will tell.

With this Cairngorm project still in its infancy I'm looking for images and styles that work together. This is an exciting phase of any body of work. The above two mountain scenes are in colour, obviously, but the left is digital, the right photo - Portra 400. Of course they have a different look, but I'm always delighted when images, randomly and serendipitously, align. The contours of these two images just "flow" into one another. I also like the fact that one is a large-scale mountain vista with the river winding through the landscape, yet the image on the right transports us, in no doubt, into the river itself. Again, the aim is to show the mysterious flow of energy that carves this landscape over millennia.

The first image of this blog post above was made on the last day of my trip when I finally got wintry conditions. I'll feature more images from that day in part 2.

I'd like to thank you if you made it this far. Additionally I'd like to welcome the few new subscribers I've had this week. It really means more to me than you'll ever know that you've made the effort to subscribe. So THANK YOU! As a further thank you, I can offer you discount code for Hahnemuhle paper and LEE Filters, all details of which can be found here.

Best wishes,


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