There are two kinds of mountain photograph. There are considerably more than two because you can theorise it further, but this distinction is useful. The first type is the visually arresting shot which needs no explanation. If you don’t know it’s in the Pyrenees, Scotland, or anywhere else, it makes no difference. Truth is Beauty, said the poet John Keats. I’m not being pretentious, I’m prompting an idea. Photographer William Eggleston, whose work I like, never named or captioned his shots. If you say this is Ben Lui, that is An Teallach, and this is Le Taillon, Posets, and Le Vignemale, it’s questionable how much that adds to the effect. Unless you’re familiar with those places, or want to be, in which case it’s good information. It’s narrative information, which brings me to the next type of photograph. At the other end of the spectrum you have narrative pictures with considerable personal meaning which doesn’t transmit to other people. They’re boring. Think of domestic photography, shots of loved ones, how much they mean to you but no one else. I like this shot partly because of the light, when bright sun was burning off the cloud of the morning. It’s probably the strongest example of that I’ve ever seen. Pyrenean sunshine is far stronger than you find in Britain. The other reason I like this shot is because of narrative association. It’s visually sparse which prompts me, paradoxically, to recall the moment and infuse the picture with meaning. I was getting very hot because the morning was chilly and I’d dressed accordingly. I was ready to abandon fleece, Goretex and the lower leg of my trousers but I don’t like to break walking rhythm. I walked further. I walked down to the river which you see in the corner and at that moment the direction of the day was clear. The sun was returning after a gloomy previous day, reviving energy and spirits. It was a moist, hot, elemental mountain moment. If I’d camped here and waited with my camera researching the sculptural possibilities of the rock, I would have got an exceptional shot. The light was both subtle and very powerful. That’s another photographic consideration. Walking in the mountains, you often rely on brief moments to get your shot. It might be a few minutes or two or three seconds, then it’s gone. Down at the river I drank cold water, undressed, and had a morning wash.

 

Pyrenees Photography: Pombie Valley and Photography Theory

Sunday October 5, 2014