A Meeting Of Minds. On Landscape conference - The Rheged Discovery Centre, 21-23 November 2014

24th November 2014
This weekend just gone I attended the inaugural On Landscape “A Meeting of Minds” landscape photography conference at the Rheged Centre in the Lake District near Penrith, the brainchild of respected landscaper Tim Parkin.

The event was a two day crash course of all things ‘landscape’ delving into science, theory, business, and just admiring the work of respected professional landscape photographers. As a mere enthusiast photographer I had everything to gain by attending and absolutely nothing to lose (except the fairly hefty, but clearly necessary, admittance fee!). Above all, as a frequenter of Twitter, it was a good opportunity to meet up with faces I already knew and network with new ones, certainly it was a ‘meeting of minds’.

Friday

I arrived in the evening on Friday for initial registration and to have a chat with folks over a glass of wine or a beer before the main event began on Saturday morning. To ease us in the organisers had displayed various works from the speakers that had been lined up for the weekend. Rather pleasingly also on show was a large print of this year’s winning Landscape Photographer of the Year image by Mark Littlejohn and rather magnificent it was too. So much detail that I just knew had to be present beyond the web resolution image that has been all over the internet. Sitting next to it was another image, this time a detail of some trees that Mark had shot more recently and had had printed just for himself. This image was by no means playing second fiddle to his award winning Glencoe shot, if it too had been entered into LPOTY at the same time, I’m pretty sure it would have been in contention itself! Anyway, the evening was a good opportunity to meet up with some friendly faces and shake the hands of some of the organising team.

Saturday

Now, I’ll admit right here that I am not the best studier of this art. I know of a fair number of landscape photographers, have seen the odd book and print exhibition, but I am more familiar with the work of those with whom I interact on social media. Of course I am quite familiar with the work of David Ward, Joe Cornish and more recently Hans Strand (having visited Iceland myself earlier this year and having since acquired his recent book Iceland: Above & Below), but the likes of Paul Gallagher and Jem Southam were generally new to me. So, this was going to be a voyage of discovery somewhat.

David Ward

After a brief introduction to the weekend by Tim Parkin first up was David Ward, one of the most respected landscapers today, a powerhouse. Not only was he the first speaker, he was also going to be the Host for the weekend. We were in good hands. In the last couple of years I’ve attended a number of photography ‘lectures’ and it’s fair to say although they have all been insightful and very much worth listening to, most have boiled down to “This is an image I took near X, I like it because of Y, it works because of Z”. All very good. However, David wasn’t here to give us a talk about his images, well not in such a straightforward way anyway, no he wanted to talk about colour. What followed was about an hour on the history, cultural significance of and science behind colour. I was fascinated. Not only was David a thoroughly authoritative speaker, his knowledge of his subject was extensive, it was compelling. I left the auditorium on a high, thinking about how I can use colour better in my own images and with an even greater amount of respect for him and his work. David was going to be a tough act to follow.

Paul Gallagher

After a short coffee break (including biscuits…very important), Paul was up. I’m not very familiar with Paul’s work, he is very much known for his Black & White work, and so this was going to serve as a very interesting introduction to it. What is it about people from Merseyside? I don’t think I’ve ever met or listened to someone from that neck of the woods who hasn’t in some way made me laugh. Paul is no exception, regaling us with tales of killer Icebergs in Jokulsarlon and a gradual transition from black and white to colour photography all in a very amusing manner. This style of talk was a little more in keeping with previous talks I had been to, but it served its purpose.

Lunch (provided) followed along with an Exhibitor talk from Canon that I did not attend. If I was still a Canon user, I would have been tempted, but now being fully invested in the Fuji X System, I used the time to browse the other exhibitors such as Beyond Words and say hello to friends Dav Thomas and David Breen from Triplekite Publishing.

David Clapp

A slightly shorter session for David, but no less interesting because of it. David wanted to talk about the business of photography. Having transitioned from water engineer to guitar teacher and now to photographer and successful businessman, David asked the audience who’d like to be a full time photographer? About half a dozen hands from the 150 or so delegates went up. Of course I suspect that in truth about 150 hands went up in 150 heads, but nobody really wants to admit that. The room was of course populated by professionals, full and part-time but also many enthusiasts like me. I think for us all this is a hobby one way or another, do we really want to make our hobby our job? Yes, I think we’d all like that if we knew in advance that we would be successful at it. Anyway, I digress, David set out that these days to be a successful professional you need to be very good, if not an expert in three fields: Art, Business and Technology. If you can do and can combine all three and you are prepared to work beyond your comfort zone you have the potential to be successful. I have no basis on which to challenge this thinking and the explanation given was compelling, it must be right. I’m in trouble then…ah well, maybe this will forever remain a hobby. David explained how he came to be where he is and revealed some of the secrets to his success, such as borrowing plant pots and fighting off tourists who wanted their photo taken with said plant pot. All very interesting stuff. Again, I felt I learned a fair amount.

Rafael Rojas

Next up was Rafael. I’ve seen Rafael’s name around, but I am not familiar with his work. A native of Spain he was one of only two International speakers during the weekend, the other being Hans. Rafael had quite a heavy subject to talk about but thankfully his command of English is very good. His talk was on the process of photography, how all of the elements come together to create an image. Interspersed with some of his own excellent imagery I felt this was the first small stumble of the weekend. Not because of the quality or content of the presentation, but I think timing. Having had a sizeable lunch and having gone straight from David’s talk into this one, I think it’s fair to say the attention span of a number of delegates was faltering. Folks shuffled a bit and I could see the odd head bobbing. Indeed so did mine. I was very interested to hear what Rafael had to say, and I think it’s fair that everyone probably took something away with them from it, but it was hard to maintain concentration. Perhaps this is something that the organisers can think about if/when there is another conference, I think there needs to be a proper break between each speaker, especially in the afternoon if the subjects are quite heavy.

Jem Southam

After a much needed coffee break, the final speaker and keynote of the day was Jem Southam. I’ll state from the outset that I have not heard Jem’s name before, and having seen two rather large prints of his work hanging up outside the auditorium, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been told he is a lecturer by day but that was it. It’s fair to say his work is not what you would consider ‘conventional landscape’ and when viewing just an individual piece I really questioned why he was a keynote. Evidently he is very successful at what he does but I just didn’t ‘get it’. However, the talk itself blew away some of those preconceptions, this wasn’t about individual images, it was a story. To understand Jem’s work you need to understand the narrative. There is an almost morbid quality to his landscapes and each ‘project’ is performed over many months if not years. In fact the first project he covered has spanned something like 18 years. Simple images of his garden, 2 or 3 images a year, changing with the seasons and with the growth of his family (climbing frames and slides sadly disappear over time, trees grow and are cut down following neighbourly disputes, etc, etc). Each project tells a story, people are very much a subject of the narrative, but they do not feature in any of the images. The work of people does. Tales of people passing and others picking up their work to continue, or not as the case may be. The talk was very interesting and as a seasoned public speaker Jem was excellent at delivering his message. I came away with a greater sense of what a project may mean and how they might develop. I won’t sit here and say I am now a fan of Jem’s work, but I do understand where he is coming from. In my opinion (which stands for little I know) a good photo should not necessarily need a narrative as complicated as his in order to understand it, but I can at least respect his work even if ultimately I do not enjoy it. Engrossing.

Saturday Night

For an extra £25 a head the organisers had arranged a dinner at the centre. Not all delegates attended but most did. A ‘pub quiz’ was organised, based wholly on photography (so that was me stumped then) and we also had a rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’ played on a bottle by a Swedish man (Hans). Good fun. The food was tasty, although a few more vegetables with the main course would have been welcome. A good chance to relax and have a chat with new faces because we were allocated our seat…there was no chance for friends to keep to their own little cliques.

Sunday

An earlier start after a late night. Perhaps whisky had not been such a great idea. No coffee on arrival either…not sure what happened there On Landscape team?

Joe Cornish

Think of British Landscape Photographers and one of the first, if not the first, name to pop into anyone’s head is Joe Cornish. The man is a legend in his own time. Author of many books and sometimes lovingly referred to as JCB, he needs no introduction. I’ll stand here right now and say I’m not the greatest fan of Joe’s work. I don’t know why. I should. His typical subject matter (Mountains) is my favourite. I’ve had this conversation with a few friends and they all think I’m bonkers and others who will read this will probably express some surprise. I can’t even find fault in his work. He is a master of composition, of light, of the whole process. He’s a Yorkshireman, but I won’t hold that against him. I don’t know what it is, I’m just not a fan. So, you may be surprised to know I was really looking forward to his talk. Maybe I just hadn’t given myself enough time to appreciate his work and this was a great opportunity to do that. One thing that struck me straight away was that Joe, like the speakers before him, is an accomplished public speaker. He speaks with authority about his subject. He broke his thoughts down into three or four individual subjects that I didn’t make a note of (as I wasn’t taking notes at all during the weekend, preferring to concentrate on what the speakers were saying) and he explained some the challenges experienced in capturing his images. All very good. However, I came away with the same mental block. I think I am trying to force myself to enjoy his work, because convention says I should, and I think that it is that that is actually preventing me from doing so. I kind of wish I had taken some time to hunt him down outside of the auditorium to talk to him, but it was such a hectic weekend I’m am only thinking of this now in retrospect. So, in fairness, the talk was excellent, I did enjoy his presentation and although at this present time it has not helped me to appreciate his work, I do respect it (always have) and have resolved in myself to obtain and read some of his books. I feel I am missing something and want to explore that, all I can say is it’s a bizarre condition I seem to have.

Paul Wakefield

If you’ve seen any billboards or looked in any magazines at any time over the last three decades, chances are you have seen the result of some of Paul Wakefield’s work. He is a leading photographer in the advertising market and with an obvious love for landscape on the side. Back in the summer I attended his talk at the Patchings Festival near Nottingham and so I wasn’t too bothered about seeing him again, assuming he would probably give the same talk (he is a busy man, would he have had time to work on another subject? I thought not). However, in a change of format that was to be repeated for the rest of the day, David Ward joined Paul on stage to go through the presentation in an interview style. At this point in the weekend it was a master stroke. Until now we had been talked at all weekend. This was an opportunity for interaction, albeit just from David essentially, but it added a dynamic that introduced some ‘banter’ and welcome humour. Paul’s subject is quite fascinating and he has some splendid tales to tell, he is brutally honest too and not afraid to share how some of his quite magical adverts are created. Of course he also talked about his landscape work which has recently become available in his new book and it was interesting to hear how that book was put together.

Alan Hinkes

After a very quick loo break we were straight into the talk by Alan Hinkes. This time joined by David Ward and Joe Cornish, with Alan sitting between them. If you don’t know who Alan is, he is the first Briton and one of only a handful of Mountaineers in history to have summited every one of the World’s fourteen mountains over 8000 metres. He has recently written about his experiences on each mountain in his book which also features some amazing photography, especially so because of the effort and time needed to take the photos in “the death zone”! Another Yorkshireman, the ‘interview’ was full of humour and the subject engrossing. As a lover of mountains and being familiar with Alan’s story this was one of the sessions I had been looking forward to most. Full of insight about the perils faced by people such as him (almost every photo contains someone who is no longer alive) it is a wonder he is here to talk to us at all.

Q&A Session

After lunch (during which there was another talk given about Tilt Shift lenses that I did not attend) there was a 45 minutes questions and answers session with Jem, Joe and Paul Wakefield, hosted by David to make up for the lack of time for questions from the audience after each of their talks. This was quite enlightening and again quite fun. There was a question raised about women in photography and Joe mentioned about there not being any female presenters during the weekend, a fact I had not recognised before it was mentioned. However, now that it had, I do very much hope that in future if/when there is another conference that they do manage to get one or two women to present. Women do see things differently to men and I do admire their work and recognise, in some cases, the subtle differences in what they produce compared to men. I can certainly think of a number of women I would be keen to hear a talk from.

Hans Strand

As I mentioned earlier in this review, I visited Iceland earlier this year and photographed some of the places that feature in Hans Strands new book [Iceland: Above & Below] published by Triplekite. My images taken from both the ground during our six day hike and our photographic flight can be seen both here on my website or on Behance (many more images). So, having seen these places with my own eyes I was very keen to hear what Hans had to say. His presentation, obviously not in his native Swedish tongue, was more of a walk through a collection of his images that are in the book and some that are not, along with some insights into Iceland, it’s geology and dangers (who knew exploring an ice/snow cave in summer was dangerous? Oops). Although he has been to Iceland many times and taken many flights to create his amazing body of work versus my one trip, I could totally relate to what Hans was saying about some of the challenges of taking photos out of a window at 150mph. Unfortunately we were not treated again to his skills playing a bottle. Maybe next time.

Conclusion

I found the entire weekend an excellent experience, there was something for everyone I think. I had seen a few social media posts from people before the event saying negative comments, such as it was a “meeting of the mindless”, etc, which I can only fathom out to be jealousy. All I can say to these people is next time (and I do hope there is another conference) you should endeavour to attend and open up your own minds to the possibilities, the ideas and the plain and simple opportunity to network with and actually talk to other people who share the same passion as you. If nothing else it’s an excuse for a beer.

As a suggestion the organisers, who I acknowledge have worked tirelessly to put on this inaugural event, I did think that if held again, it may be good to have some breakout sessions on some practical subjects. Not necessarily the technique of taking a photo, I think everyone attending knows the basics, but perhaps a printing workshop, or a workflow workshop, etc. More specialised disciplines within the sphere of photography. Perhaps held during some of the talks (so you could choose to attend the talk or have a break doing something else practical) or maybe during some longer breaks during the day. Just a thought anyway.

Finally, on the subject of the organisers, I should thank both Tim Parkin and David Ward and the whole of their team for the hard work they must have put in to organise this. It was thoroughly enjoyable and very worthwhile. Well done.

Leave a comment

Your Name
Your Email
(Optional)
Your Comment
No info required here, please press the button below.