Hello again, it’s Tom here with my third, and final, instalment about making my new book, Latitude. In my previous two posts I’ve spoken about the craft of bookbinding and the importance of the choice of materials to the finished book object. Today I’d like to tell you more about the concepts and creative processes which lead me to produce the images in this collection.
(Loch Lomond Moonlicht)
In his landmark Ways of Seeing, John Berger notes that “perspective makes the single eye the centre of the visible world”. I have often felt that our contemporary ways of seeing landscapes—perhaps particularly when viewed through the medium of photography—are constrained by perspectives that have become all the more powerful for being completely unacknowledged.
As viewers, we are all used to leading lines, the rule of thirds, and the deep focus that ensures sharpness from foreground to vanishing point. We search for the interesting elements that immediately draw us into a natural scene; we happily follow the inviting rivers and curving paths that carry us up a mountain or along a valley. As viewers, we may not know what we are looking at—we may not name that device as “the Golden Ratio”—but such unspoken aesthetic and mathematical conventions govern our understanding of place and space, of nature and culture.
(Berneray Seascape No. 1)
Photography and photographers thus have a powerful capacity to mediate how landscapes are seen, and to fix (and sometimes ossify) human perspectives. But might a photographer also have the capacity to trouble perspective? Latitude began with this question, and by extension with a questioning of my own practice as a landscape photographer. Could I, with my camera, endeavour to disturb the self-centring effect of landscape photography’s “single eye”? Was there a way that I might represent the beauty of the places that I loved to look at a little differently? A way that might illustrate the constraints of photographic perspective by disturbing perspective itself?
Might I, by ignoring compositional conventions, by removing distractions, and by replacing the representational with the abstract, connect the viewer to a landscape in a new, non-perspective-centric way? Could I use photography to distil a sense of place into pure form? How would my images appear if I focused on the felt experience of a landscape rather than what it was expected to look like?
(Hebridean Night No. 2)
What are you looking at?
This project is an exploration of Latitude in all senses. Literally, it is an exploration of the landscape within a defined latitude (55°–57°). But by giving myself the freedom, or latitude, to make photographs without the compositional (and implicitly ideological) constructs that govern so much contemporary landscape photography, I have been able to present images in which aesthetic convention has effectively been replaced by essential form.
(Loch Lomond Winterlight No. 5)
My influences may be very obvious: in photographers such as Hiroshi Sugimoto and Franco Fontana and visual artists such as Mark Rothko and Patrick Heron. Most of the images I have chosen for this collection are indeed abstractions, creating an impression of space with washes and blocks of colour. While my use of abstraction aims to intensify a sense of experience over representation, these remain real spaces and real places.
Could this image – “Berneray—East Beach” – really portray anything other than the place where Hebridean land meets water?
“Seascape at Uig” speaks to me so strongly of the quality of the dying evening light where the sea meets the sky across the Minch. I can’t think where else this might be, other than the Isle of Skye.
The slow shift in light as the sun sets over the Trossachs is familiar, and deeply humbling, to me. I can think of no better way of depicting this quality of light, this feeling of nature’s surpassing of—and ultimate indifference to—the human, than the two images I have chosen to include in this collection
(Trossachs No. 5 // Surpass)
Trossachs No. 7 // Indifference
So yes, abstract these pictures certainly are, but they have also been made with direct and explicit connections to landscapes at this latitude, to the this-ness of my natural environment and my particular human experience of it.
Control versus chance
Balancing chance and control has been crucial in making many of the images in this portfolio. The horizon—either the actual horizon or an implied one—is the central theme which ties all the images together. To quote the Proclaimers, “The best view of all is where the land meets the sky”. This strong central motif is dependent on a tightly controlled horizontal composition. However, my use of intentional camera movement during the exposure introduces a huge element of chance. Within a genre (landscape photography) that’s known for its careful, staged compositions, this fluidity, this random, chance element can be highly liberating. Rather than the eye being drawn to specifics or led by perspective, the resulting image is impressionistic, fluid, minimal.
(Snow Drift No. 1)
Chance and control combine in these photographs as I gradually moved away from a perspective-based image to an expressionistic one. What I ended up with were distilled landscapes, images in which place and time were reduced to their most basic elements. The scenes chosen here are presented to the viewer in a non-representational way—stripped down to pure form—but they are also, I hope, highly evocative of particular seasons, moments, spaces.
Carbeth No. 1 // Frozen
The element of chance is at the heart of Latitude, but often it was only through repetition that I developed a deeper understanding of a scene and how it I might best reach my vision of how to convey it. As is often the case in my work, by allowing myself the latitude to fail, my creativity in this project was an iterative process—making, remaking, correcting and refining. This repetition might involve me shooting the same location in different seasons or at different times of day or night, from different angles or elevations. I experimented extensively with techniques of allowing the scene to move in relation to the camera, or vice versa. I shot (and printed) on different media from black and white 35mm film to infrared digital sensors. I used analogue cameras, digital cameras, long lenses, wide lenses, pinhole lenses, light-modifying filters and more. I printed with different chemicals in the darkroom, I re-touched digitally in post-production … always with the thought of balancing the elements of chance and control within my creative processes.
Latitude began as an approach to looking at landscapes differently. But it also became a project about making: about hand-printing images both digital and analogue, and about creating a book with my own hands. As the project progressed, as I learned more about the principles and processes of production, I began to discover a great joy in the making of books: in choosing, folding and trimming papers for the best possible image reproduction; in selecting threads and hand-stitching a spine; in finding beautiful decorative papers in which to bind the finished object. Latitude is an exploration of my own photographic art, but craft is integral to the project too. It is important that these images and this book are made objects, things produced by hand, by me. Latitude has been an enormously rewarding journey in which I feel I’ve allowed myself to take some different directions and, as a consequence, have developed both as a photographer and a maker. I hope that this project, this made object, these images, this thing, might take you on a journey just as rewarding as my own.
I am know taking commissions for copies of Latitude, of which only 10 works will be created, each one made by me, each one different and unique. If you are interested in commissioning a bespoke copy of Latitude (with various options about the materials / papers used) please contact me by email email@example.com
Thanks for reading.
Thank you so much for this post, I feel I could look into each image endlessly. Beautiful and thoughtful.
I am overwhelmed with the peacefulness and awesome beauty of your work. An appropriate use of the word awesome; I mean it fully. Wish I could order a print to hang. Are you commissioning such work?
I am so glad you and Kate found each other.
Tom, your photographs remind me of paintings I own by Stephen Gillberry. Incredibly so. Thank you for your posts about your latest creative endeavour, such a pleasure to read. I find your Snow Drift No. 1 especially bewitching. You have created many mindful moments here, holding one in thrall. Thank you, Tom. Cheers from Canada
I love looking at these images as I would a Rothko–giving up and letting the painting pull me in, push me away and pull me in again. Thank you, Tom, for sharing the process and a rich exploration of seeing. Paul Valéry wrote (at least someone said he wrote) “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.” I suspect you know what he meant.
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Based on what you have shared here, you have succeeded in the felt landscape versus the seen landscape. These photographs are compelling and even if I do not recognize the places, I recognize the experiences that resonate with my own.
Those images are absolutely magical! Your vision is so unique.
That was an extraordinary approach to the landscape, one which I am sure you will continue to explore :0 Not sure I will look at where the land meets the sky the same way again. Thank you.
Amazing photos, love them. And as for the binding fabulous. Thanks for sharing
Seriously cool. Thanks for sharing so much of your process. The images are gorgeous here, and likely breathtaking in the prints you’re making.
Wow. These abstracted landscapes are stunning, and your explanation of why (and a bit of how) you made them only adds. Will you consider making individual prints available after the book making process is finished?
As much as I am in awe with your photographs and the simple beauty of you bookmaking, resulting in a unique piece of art, it is the passion shining through these three essays that stays with me. I am most grateful you have shared that here.
Totally taking me back to art school with the Berger and bookbinding. Up next, be sure to have a go at paper making, it’s the most messy fun you can imagine.
Wow!!! Thank you for sharing the beauty revealed in the work of your eyes, your hands, and your creative genius.
Fascinating to read about the different decisions you took in making the book. Inspiring too. Thanks for writing about it.
Oh Tom… you have made something truly extraordinary. What a true wonder!
My immediate thought was: come to Kent, to the Romney Marshes, to do a similar thing. Because it is so flat around here, and the marshes are closely related to the sea, there are some fantastic flat landscapes that would be enriched by such a different way of photographing them. Then there is Dungeness as well ….
Your pictures are so lovely and almost mesmerising.
I have read the three chapters on Making Books with great interest, and I think your final book is quite beautiful. I love the images with which you’ve illustrated your writing.
Fantastic Tom – really beautiful and mystical. Now if only I could apply this to the vineyards of northern Italy!
Extraordinary! The most beautiful images accompanied by such a thoughtful and well-worded text. As creative couples go you and Kate must be among the best – both supremely talented and with a way of expressing your creativity to engage others. These three posts have been fantastic Tom – thank you.
Tom, both my spouse and I think you write beautifully about your photography and what you are wanting to say and portray in Latitude. In addition, of course, to your gorgeous photographs and now new passion of making books. I particularly like the idea of seeing the felted landscape. Something we knitters can really identify with. Congratulations!
I don’t know how to describe your photos other than, for me, emotional.
The light in those photos is so familiar to me as I often stare at the same light in similar locations but it also feels new and intriguing. Amazing!
I have never commissioned a piece of art before (except from my grandmother who is a painter) but I am sorely tempted…
Good morning, I send an email, but I’m not sure it went through. I think there is a typo in the contact information in the blog post!
Beautiful and enchanting!!