St. Mary’s Island. Northumberland.
4th September 2004.
I read a lot of books. We have a library rather than a living room and it would be fair to say that a lot of my books were bought for the pictures.
I firmly believe you can teach anyone to use a camera. You can teach most people to use a darkroom or a computer but you can’t teach them to see pictures. That is something we all have to learn on our own.
One thing that can help the process though is looking at as many pictures as possible in books, magazines and exhibitions.
All this is coming round to a book that I bought while I was on holiday in Cornwall.
It was by an artist called Chris Drury who I confess I had not heard of at the time, but there was an fascinating image on the cover and many more inside.
Chris Drury is an artist using found objects to make art both gallery based but also out in the landscape and it was these pictures that intrigued me.
One thing that I found interesting was the transitory nature of this “art”. We tend to think of the land as a permanent thing but here were pictures of landscape artworks destined to fall, fail, and fade away.
I had not long returned from Northern Norway and while I was there I had noticed stones stacked into little towers in many places in much the way that walkers make cairns upon the hills.
Waiting for the sun to set and watching the tide wrap itself around the island these two influences found a scrap of fertile land and took root.
I think it was the seeming solidity of the lighthouse that inspired me to start building in this spot where the sea was sure to tumble it down.
There is an old tradition amongst landscape photographers of not rearranging the scene before the camera. They would say that to do so is dishonest in some way or lacking integrity.
But if I see a chip packet in the foreground of my picture I will obviously remove it. So why on Earth shouldn’t I put something into my picture if I want it there.
Often such photographers are happy to photograph objects that other people have placed in the landscape such as lighthouses and wooden posts.
This is a prohibition that is entirely self imposed and I first chose to remove it here.
This would go on to have far reaching effects upon my image making in the future.
St. Mary’s Island is one of those special places that are cut off from the shore twice a day by the tide.
There is a rhythm that such places develop that is quite different to the 9 to 5 world that we live in. This is the rhythm of the Sun and the Moon and cannot be rushed or resisted.
I think there is something slightly magical about such places.
Of course the sea and it’s shore has a magic all of it’s own anyway. It’s in the smell of the salt, the seaweed and the sound of the gulls.
Things that a difficult to capture in a picture of course but part of the scene never the less.
As the tide came in that evening I noticed another traveller from the North. A Tern was wheeling and calling further down the strand as the light turned peach upon the lighthouse.
The camera I was using was completely incapable of catching all these elements together in one exposure but the same technology that can blend several pictures to build a panorama can also composite elements from separate frames into a single image to recreate the moment I experienced.
At that threshold between land and sea, day and night, I crossed another, invisible boundary into a more complex, creative and perhaps more expressive landscape.