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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Photographic Catharsis


‘The Monument’, Tittensor, Staffordshire
Fujifilm X-Pro2, Fujinon XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS @ 32mm, 15 seconds @ f/8, ISO 400
LEE Seven5 series ‘Little-Stopper’ 6-stop near Neutral Density filter.
Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 tripod with XPRO-3WG head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“There is a primitive human need to purify our spirit in times of grief, we call the process ‘catharsis’, and the release of such strong emotion through art is what defines it.”

Photographic Catharsis

This month, I’m in a melancholic mood. I said goodbye to Mum for the last time two weeks ago. I had the privilege of spending several days by her side as she lay there dying in the hospice. As she took her last breath, I held her hand, told her I loved her, that everything would be OK, to go and see Dad.

On the day my father died six years ago, Mum wanted to be on her own, which left me feeling a little lost, directionless. I ventured out with my camera and made an image of the lighthouse at Spurn Point near Hull. I instinctively shot it using a very alternative style to usual, I’m not sure why, it just seemed appropriate; using very high ISO to intentionally create noise and produce a ‘grainy’, high contrast, dark, dramatic image. I now have that photograph hanging on my wall at home and it’s very special to me because every time I look at it I’m reminded of Dad.

Having experienced such comfort from that photograph, when Mum died I naturally wanted to make another image: one that will bring back memories of her whenever I see it. This time, I chose to create an image with a more direct relationship. This statue is just a few hundred metres from the house I grew up in: I spent most of my formative years playing in these woods, developing a deep love for nature that was to last a lifetime.

I made my image after sunset as the crepuscular colours faded into dusk. With the camera mounted on the tripod, I spent some time deciding on my composition using the geared head to make fine adjustments until the statue was positioned appropriately. I chose a rendering style that felt sympathetic to my melancholic state: underexposed and relatively low-key with a heavy black silhouette anchoring a smeared indigo and violet twilight sky. The LEE ‘Little-Stopper’ offers the perfect solution to texturise dynamic elements in landscapes at dusk: it provided 6-stops of near neutral density to force a long exposure of 15 seconds to blur the cloudscape.

There is a primitive human need to purify our spirit in times of grief, we call the process ‘catharsis’, and the release of such strong emotion through art is what defines it. When life doesn’t go according to plan, photography can be profoundly therapeutic.

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