I have this hopelessly romantic notion that ‘spirit of place’ is a metaphysical reality; that as humans we can be in a place and somehow communicate with our surroundings, allow ourselves to feel the emotion that’s wrapped up in the ‘spiritual energy’ of any given location.
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Joe Cornish and the Genius Loci


‘Old Man of Storr’, Storr, Isle of Skye
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, Canon 17-40 f/4 L USM @ 17mm, 1.0 second @ f/22, ISO 50
LEE 2-Stop ND + 3-Stop ND + 2-Stop ND Grad filters.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

“When it comes to spiritual presence, this pre-historic landscape is brimming over with it.”

Joe Cornish and the Genius Loci

The photographic process begins with a concept born out of inspiration. Inspiration can come from many sources; sculpture, painting, music, poetry, books, magazine articles and the work of other photographers. The inspiration for this month’s image came from the sublime interpretation of this magnificent scene by Joe Cornish in his magical book ‘First Light’. I use the word ‘inspiration’ cautiously here, because modern thinking suggests that the use of the term ‘influence’ may be more correct. This is not just about semantics; whether or not you chose to use the term ‘inspiration’ to describe external influences on your creativity boils down to your personal beliefs. Where does inspiration originate ?

The ancient Greeks believed that artistic inspiration came from Muses; goddesses of the arts who inspired creativity. The Romans believed that our landscapes may have a spiritual presence, an essence, a personality. ‘Genius loci’ was the term used in Roman mythology to describe a protective spirit associated with a place. What a wonderful notion, that it may be possible to encapsulate such ‘spirit of place’ within our images. In the literary world, the meaning of the term ‘genius’ has slowly evolved through the centuries. By the time of the Romantic Era, the emphasis had changed from a spiritual presence within a place or the external world to a supernatural force within the artist that eclipses the expected.

Over the centuries, thinking has changed and with the contributions of such great influences as Freud, artistic inspiration is now believed to be an entirely internal process; originating within the subconscious of the artist rather than from external influences, coloured by millions of previous life experiences. Interestingly, all the various conflicting theories of inspiration have a common view that it is something beyond the control of the artist. Whatever your personal belief, all these romantic notions provide an alluring alchemy for landscape photographers.

Part of the attraction of photographing iconic locations is the challenge of creating an original image. I chose to shoot into the morning sun as it illuminated the side of the ‘Old Man of Storr’, revealing the textural detail in the rocks. When it comes to spiritual presence, this pre-historic landscape is brimming over with it. The views are breathtaking as you stand there among these huge stone pillars, mesmerised by the ‘Genius loci’.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.