Gallery


Mountains are surprisingly difficult to photograph. Perhaps there is too much detail, too many colours and tones. And mountain weather presents its own challenges, adding to the problems of being in the right place at the right time, their scale making a spontaneous response to changing weather difficult. But they provide liberation from the magic hours of sunrise and sunset, light raking some part of their slopes throughout the day.

The mountain of home, seen in all weathers, seen from the surrounding hills. Yr Elen loses nothing in being a little less high than its neighbour Carnedd Llewelyn. And a series of views - homage to Hokusai..

The parts of Britain’s coast that have escaped development provide refuges to celebrate – and to photograph. Beaches are refreshed at every tide; the interplay of weather, sea level, and light is endless. Perhaps our coast is at its best when partnered with mountains, where the sense of wildness is heightened.

The Isle of Rum from the Isle of Eigg - iconic even by the standards of Scotland's north-west. The Cuillin of Rum appear near symmetrical, the sands and foreshores are varied and the wave-cut platforms of Valtos sandstone have a compelling structure - and the weather is always changing.

A photograph of a beautiful thing is not the same as a beautiful – or, rather, good – photograph. Sheets and cascades of water are inherently attractive, so much photographed, and correspondingly hard to picture in a way that does them justice.

Moss Side Wood does not exist, although Mancunians might see an irony. Rather Moss Side Wood is a metaphor, a way of seeing detail in the landscape's plants and animals. And that detail - leaves, lichens (and yes, mosses), invertebrates - is pictured literally. But what does an insect see? We know many have a very bright, wide view but with a shallow focus fixed at a few centimetres.

Much photography is about form, and sometimes it becomes the key point of an image. A scientist works to extract simplicity and elegance from the confusion of the natural world – a photographer can, too.
One way for a landscape photographer to work in Britain is to look for detail. We don’t have the slot canyons of Arizona, but we have naturally carved sandstone. We don’t have rich alpine meadows, but single plants are beautiful. Our mountains and rivers are, in world terms, small, but they have detail of great variety and richness. The nature of our land is often revealed by a longer lens and a closer view – and a simple image.

Sometimes the corner-to-corner sharpness of most landscape photography may not reflect the feeling of soft light entering woodland, of grasses fading into the distance, of the numinous colours of autumn. We accept motion blur of water, so what about soft focus, grease, Gaussian blur, camera movement and multiple exposures? Do these pictures work or are they just bad?

All is flux. Plants and animals grow and die. We can see the water around us moving, and the air’s flux reflected in plant motion. The food we eat partly and continually replaces the components of our bodies. Even the rocks beneath us are slowly but constantly formed, raised, eroded and finally subducted. It is a challenge to convey flux in a still, two-dimensional image.

The camera is a flawed instrument, but only the camera lets us see the full beauty of water. It can blur or freeze water’s motion, freeing us from the eye’s tenth-second view. It can steal a detail from a mass of moving water. It can help us see order within that mass.

Woodlands are complex, ecologically and visually. They have texture but little form, and their detail does little justice to the scale of the whole. But structure can be found, and significant detail isolated. Since so many British woodlands are in poor condition, with little regeneration, and much ‘British forest’ is of planted non-native species, the first task is to find quality woodland. Fortunately Wales has more than its share.

That landscape photographers work with light is a truism, indeed a tautology; what we often really deal with is weather in its more interesting forms. Weather modifies sunlight between upper atmosphere and photographic subject; weather gives us skies.

Every square centimetre of Britain has been altered by humans. But some changes, old or new, are more obvious than others. We rightly cherish the evidence of our distant ancestors. We have replaced most native habitat by the agriculture we need to feed ourselves.

A typical collection of landscape photographs seems oblivious to challenges to our environment. Skies are free of contrails; land is free of roads; water unchanneled by concrete. Small, old and quaint human artefacts are apparently acceptable: the upturned clinker-built boat and the old wooden jetty. Whilst it is right to celebrate our beautiful natural and managed landscapes, is it not also necessary to demonstrate the threats to them? This gallery illustrates some of those threats – not the big ones like climate change, but smaller ones, some subject to daily human decisions and – one hopes – reversible. Many of the images are from the Snowdonia National Park; all are in places of real landscape quality.