In the fall of 2009 I met Miles for the first time at a PODAS workshop I was leading in Death Valley. This workshop was a special experience for everyone there as it was Phase One’s first venture into workshops and probably the first workshop of its kind where every attendee received a Phase One camera system to use during the workshop. By the time the workshop was over Miles and over half of the attendees had purchased a Phase One camera system. Over the years and subsequent PODAS workshops Miles and many others have returned time and time again. I had the pleasure becoming a friend of Miles and during this time watching his photography evolve. There is no questions that Miles’s passion for photography is strong and he has become much more disciplined in his approach. One thing I have always enjoyed over the years is Miles is never satisfied. He is continually striving to improve his craft and his work over the last four years certainly reflects this. Luminous Landscape will be featuring profiles, video and articles of other readers moving forward.
My Photographic Journey
Though I’ve been taking pictures since I first picked up a camera on a family holiday in France around 50 years ago the key date in this story is 2009. I had left a job I loved at the end of 2007 when I realised that 48 weeks in the year spent travelling threatened an early grave.
I had a long list of things to do: more time with a family far too long neglected, non executive and advisory work, coaching and mentoring and time spent on twin passions of sailing and photography. A chance meeting with a former colleague who has become a very successful sculptor led to a joint exhibition in June 2009 which we called “Sea, Land, Stone”. For my part it was commercially less successful than I had planned but I sold a print of “Dog, Lady, Snow” to a prestigious local gallery and was invited some months later to a private view of their Darwin Bicentennial Exhibition only to see my image placed five spots away from a Francis Bacon triptych.
Dog, Lady, Snow. French Alps 2009
That’s when the penny dropped that artistic and creative validation is altogether a more subjective, complex and even mysterious process than success in business. I was yet to stop and ask myself more deeply why I was doing this.
The second pivotal event was participating in the first PODAS workshop in Death Valley in October 2009. Of the workshops I have attended it was perhaps the most technically oriented of all. I learned lots but flew home with a realisation of how little I still knew, some so-so images and a case of Phase One gear. I then went back to work for two years when a wonderful opportunity came my way. Business still had its attractions and that Phase equipment saw too little use for a while.
Come 2011 there was time again for travels with a camera and over the next two years I ticked off a large part of the bucket list: Australia, New Zealand, Patagonia, Namibia, the American West, Scotland and Iceland. By now I was thinking more and more about composition and less about the technology. I was reading more and more but realising that there are few good books that teach composition; that iconic locations are great places to test oneself and to learn but that they can only take you so far.
Holy Island, Northumberland, England 2013
Many of these trips but not all of them were to workshops. They provided great locations, excellent company and often provided great coaching. It’s often the little questions and comments that return again and again long after the trip that are the most valuable: ‘Do you collect the work of other photographers?’,‘If not, why should anyone buy yours?’, ‘Who are your favourite photographers?’, ‘Why are you doing this?’, ‘What is the best aspect ratio within which to compose?’, ‘What is this landscape saying to you and what is its essence you are trying to capture?’ and ‘Show me something I haven’t seen before’ all come to mind.
Eagle Falls, The Kimberley, Australia 2013
Gradually, I found myself taking pictures that I felt were better than before. And I gradually began to answer the question of ‘Why and What for?’ I am aiming to develop and explore my creative limits to a degree that perhaps wasn’t possible in business. I am not trying to build a business. I’m doing this for myself though validation by others is always a pleasure. Finding a voice and style is still work in progress.
I also felt a vague frustration when returning from trips that I had enjoyed enormously. I began to feel that I was only skimming the surface. I seem to take better images when travelling alone than those taken when part of a group and the work of photographers that I have come to admire often strikes me as reflecting a deeper understanding of the landscape than can be gained on a fleeting visit.
Out of this thinking have come the ideas of some specific projects that I hope will enable me to realise deeper connections with the landscape. I am fortunate to spend some of the year in Cornwall in the southwest of England. It is the poorest county in England and a popular tourist destination with all the things that that implies. But there is a long and often overlooked history, which I want to try to document. Bronze age stone circles, long abandoned tin mines, silted up rivers where you can still see the remains of quays, the pathways used by pilgrims centuries ago and which are still visible today, churches, fishing harbours, lighthouses which all reflect man’s relationship with, and impact on, a rich and often mysterious landscape.
Boscawen-Un Stone Circle, Cornwall, England 2013
Secondly, I want to explore the relationship between London and the River Thames that flows through it both today and in history.
Battersea Power Station, London, England 2013
The Shard and Millennium Bridge, London, England 2013
Thirdly, I was lucky enough to spend a year in China in the final days of the Cultural Revolution and have a huge number of slides and negatives of a time long passed. Yes, there are images of the Great Wall and Tian An Men but my favourite is one of a man selling a bag of nuts at a street market in 1979 or 1980. In itself nothing remarkable, but a few years before there was no room for private enterprise and a few years later the transformation of China triggered by Deng Xiao Ping was underway. I want to restore these images from a time long ago when I saw history being made a first hand.
Free Market, Beijing, China, 1980
I get huge pleasure at setting off before dawn or on a longer trip knowing that I will be making and creating images that don’t yet exist. The next stop is Cornwall later this year and the Antarctic at the end of January next year but with a focus also on personal projects where it will be just me, camera and tripod looking something deeper. I know that I can get better though I’m still to find where my limits are.