Wherever I go I explore the world visually with a camera. Sometimes this is during a walk. Sometimes this is during a workshop. Other times it’s while I’m making a body of work. You might think it distracting to think about one thing while you’re doing another but I find that working on two different ideas at the same time often leads to a fertile cross-pollination. I find new ideas this way.
Of course, you’ve got to stay flexible. Recently, while I was leading a photography workshop in Maine’s Acadia National Park I went looking for the cairns so many visitors leave behind. I don’t like them in public lands, because when I go there I want to be able to experience the land uninterpreted. Still, I appreciate the playful contact people have with the land when they make cairns. So to work on my ambivalence I started making art out of the cairns. But this time, they weren’t there. I was pleasantly surprised and a little disappointed, which also surprised me. So I started to make my own cairns to photograph, intending to scatter them before I left, and never got to it because the first two stones I picked up were all I needed that day. The relationships between them and their environment were much richer than I expected. It felt like arranging still lifes, which I did for hours – and I’m sure I’ll do it again.
These studies relate to my series Alignment.
View my Maine Cairns studies here.
View my studies of Maine Artists here.
View more studies of Maine here.
Find out about my Maine fall photography workshop here.
For years I’ve used my iPhone as a sketchbook to play, make images more spontaneously, and explore ideas. I’ve always been fascinated by how the tools we use change our perception. Yet, knowing it wasn’t the tool that made the difference between a study and a finished work, I’d been challenging myself to create a series of images with my iPhone that had as much depth of content and feeling as the images I’ve made with cameras that make higher quality files. Land In Land is the first series I’ve done this with. Here’s a quick look at how it developed.
I knew I was onto something when I saw this first image in New Zealand.
I got confirmation that the idea could be sustained with this second image.
I found that meaningful variations could be found in other locations like California.
This process of discovery was repeatable in Utah.
This new way of seeing finally became intuitive for me, leading to increased productivity in Spain.
My mother (an artist, a picture editor, a designer) has an exceptional eye. When she asked for a print of this last image and hung it near a prized Tibetan tanka, it was confirmation for me that I’d achieved a real depth that carries through to others.
View the suite of images from Maine here.
View the video here.
Listen to the statement here.
For years I’ve been photographing postcards of artworks made by master artists in Maine. Each artist has their own strong connection to the same place and their own way of seeing it. Do they find what’s iconic about Maine or do they make it iconic? Photographing images of their works in locations that feel relevant to their works provides a unique way of looking into Maine, what they make of it, and what I make of it.
View more studies here.
Find out about my Maine Fall Foliage photography workshop.
Two of my recent studies (experiments made and processed entirely on an iPhone) combine historical photographs with contemporary exposures.
Exposures for Antarctica Now & Then were made at Whaler’s Bay, Antarctica on the active volcano Deception Island.
Exposures for Greenland Now & Then were made in the East Greenland village of Ittoqqortoormiit.
I’ve been wondering if there was any connection between these explorations and the work that was foremost on my mind during these voyages.
At first glance we seem to make many unrelated images, but often it’s just a matter of finding the connections. Sometimes we find the connections between what we were thinking and feeling while we are having the experience; sometimes we find the connections long after; sometimes we never find them. At the very least, doing one thing provides a rejuvenating break from the other. There’s usually more going on than we are consciously aware of.
What connections have I found? I was looking into the spirit of the land in these locations and these two experiences provided stark contrasts to that sensibility. People concerned with the spirit of a place wouldn’t kill whales in the way they were slaughtered in Antarctica; thankfully this activity has stopped. That bygone members of Greenland’s indigenous population had a stronger sense of the spirt of the place and practices for interacting with it than the quickly westernizing current members do was made evident in the art they left behind. Was my experience limited by my cultural inheritance and current circumstances? Could I, a westerner living today, also participate in more sacred ways of relating to the earth? I think so.
The finished images I produced on these trips, for my series Revelation, are evidence of this.
“Many writings on creativity stress the value of play and experimentation. Using techniques such as multiple exposure, camera movement, layering and compositing, this series improvises on the traditional landscape.
Elements of water, stone, forest and sky become counterpoints in much the same way as a jazz musician improvises on the melody. The music is transformed but the underlying chords remain recognisable.
So with Improvised Landscapes the basic patterns, textures and forms of nature are visible yet blend in a web of inter-connectedness.
As Bill Evans said, ‘It bugs me when people try to analyse jazz as a theorem. It’s not. It’s a feeling’.
I believe the same is true of photography.” – Olaf Willoughby
See more of Olaf Willoughby’s photography here.
Find out about his Lightdance workshops here.
Read more Alumni Success Stories here.
My most recent study, Antarctica Now & Then combines historical photographs with contemporary exposures made at Whaler’s Bay on Antarctica’s active volcano Deception Island – made and processed entirely on an iPhone.
View more Studies here.
Find out about our next Antarctica digital photography workshop here.
I find making images with my iPhone extremely stimulating. For me, the device implicitly offers an invitation to play, reminding myself how important spontaneity is in making good images, and to experiment, growth and innovation require risk. Doing this offers me an opportunity to make images in situations, of things, in ways I ordinarily wouldn’t. It also raises very important questions, “When should I use a more professional tool?”, “When should I return to my standard practices?”, “What’s gained and what’s lost?” I haven’t found a single easy answer. I’ve found many hard ones – and more questions. Simply engaging this process has made me see in more versatile ways and make stronger images, both studies and finished works.
Here are a few of my recent experiments.
Use standard tools as props.
Bring new props.
Combine photographs and drawings.
Make double exposures.
When I start making images with my iPhone that I would ordinarily make with a DSLR it’s probably time for me to switch tools – again.
Find out more about my Acadia Maine Fall Foliage Workshop.
Learn more about iPhone photography here.
Every year, during my Acadia Maine Fall Foliage Workshop my assistant Charles Adams and I explore making photographs with our iPhones.
Charles talks about his experience.
“Making images with an iPhone can be a terrific creative exercise. If you regularly shoot with a DSLR, the iPhone can simplify things and offer a new experience. I find this to be the case during every fall foliage workshop. I leave my Canon in the car along with all of the photographic requirements and responsibilities that I usually attach to it. It’s a freeing experience. Suddenly the pressure to make the best photographs of my life is no longer there. I’m free to play.
Being able to process your images seconds after shooting them is also key to the iPhone experience. The many apps available make it possible to shoot, edit, share, and get feedback before even getting back in the car. In my case, apps have a direct effect on which pictures I chose to make. If I know I’m going to apply water color and oil painting filters to my images, I try to shoot accordingly. I set out to find good compositions with strong “bones” or solid structures that can benefit from the addition of dramatic effects.
The resulting images are fun to create. Changing the tools you use to make your images can offer new insights into your own photography. I strongly recommend allowing yourself to play.”
Visit Charles’ website here.
Find out about my Acadia Maine Fall Foliage workshop here.
Namibia’s Skeleton Coast is famous for its near omnipresent fog, which is created by the confluence of hot Namib Desert sands and cold Benguela Current waters that flow north from Antarctica.
When access to the big dune fields was cut off, play helped me find my way along the coastline.
Here’s a collection of recent iPhone sketches from Namibia’s Skeleton Coast.
View more Namibia posts here.
Find our more about my Namibia digital photography workshop here.