A pivotal point in my life was a trip to Cardiff in the early 1980’s, to see a David Bailey landscape photography exhibition that formed part of the Welsh Valley’s Project. Bailey had created some sublime monochrome images of nearby towns, images devoid of human presence, touching images that evoked the strong sense of abandonment and dereliction after the fall of the Welsh mining industry. I was so moved and inspired by this experience that I decided to stay around for a few days and visit the places he had photographed and try to emulate his style, as a learning exercise. In many cases I managed to find the exact spot from which he had made his images and it was hugely rewarding to stand there myself and see how minor changes in viewpoint had striking effects on the resultant composition. It was a momentous revelation, the sudden realisation of just how involved landscape photography really is and how vitally important it is to perfect even the smallest compositional elements.
Thirty years later, and I’m in an entirely different Celtic location. Sitting in the western Highlands of Scotland, at the confluence of three great sea-lochs and surrounded by such magnificent scenery, it is easy to believe that Eilean Donan Castle prides itself on being the most photographed castle in Scotland.
The muses sang as this breathtaking scene revealed itself, unexpectedly, near the end of a long drive to Skye. Every constituent for a venerable vista; elegant architecture, exquisitely illuminated, resplendently reflected. All set against this glorious mountainous backdrop with a fresh sprinkling of snow; an idyllic winter paradise. For those of us with a photogenic fetish, locations don’t get any better than this. It is no coincidence that Eilean Donan is such an iconic subject.
I have always championed iconic locations. Naysayers might chose the term ‘cliché’ to describe such places, or the images created there, but the vast majority of us chose to photograph the landscape for pleasure. Negativity stifles pleasure and suppresses creativity, whether a photograph can be described as cliché is entirely subjective anyway, so why not celebrate the epic locations that decades of photography have established as exceptional. Just as I found standing in David Bailey’s footsteps helped my understanding of composition, visiting photographically familiar locations can be a hugely rewarding experience.