Philosophy : Art Versus Education

While it is true that the ready availability of information on the web has catalysed the development of many a keen mind, it has also given rise to a steady decline in articulation across the board. Those whom previously may have fallen by the wayside, due to a distinct lack of quality in their work, have been given a platform by which they can saturate their chosen markets, without the hindrance of personal reflection and/or learning curves. 

As creative professionals, we no longer need to study our chosen subjects in order to develop an unspoken understanding of our field. Instead, if something comes up that we don’t understand, we can open a browser and look it up - or, if we don’t want to make that sort of commitment to our craft, we can simply start a thread on a social media platform and let others do the legwork for us. The same rules also apply to those under a course of study. A subject or technique is briefly discussed before subsequently becoming the go-to until the next is introduced to the individuals (of which there are many).

Though it’s very easy to be cynical in a society which is (increasingly) cut-throat at best, the important thing is to figure out the issues at play and to set about incurring change. Even if it’s only on a personal basis. As creatives trying to develop our skills and to forge a path for ourselves in an increasingly difficult working environment, we must strive towards excellence. In the age of availability, we are told that the hustle is more important than quality of work, and this, is a integral part of the problem we all face.  

We must focus on our artistic integrity, while nurturing our own creative development. We must stoke the fires of productivity in order to compete, yes, but we must also place an unwavering value upon our work without the incessant need for ‘content’ clouding our collective judgement. We must resist crossing the threshold unto falsity in order to meet targets and instead rely upon our skills to get the job done to the highest standard possible at that point in our development. We must never give in to the pressures of the modern age, wherein beautiful works of creative expression are nullified within seconds. 

In order to truly forge a path for ourselves in the modern age we must look at our working environments with a cynical eye. Social media, online profiling, marketing & all of the modernistic tropes are simply tools by which we may solidify our place in the world. Without a well planned and critical approach we are doomed to fall by the wayside, leaving nothing behind to account for our endeavours. No matter what you are trying to do, you must first consider how your output will benefit your growth. Nurture your efforts and allow them to bear fruit. Strive to reduce the dross in which you will become consumed and allow yourself to operate on a level which is both conducive to your own personal targets and to those around you.
 

'Breaking Through'

'Breaking Through'

Field Notes : The Heads of Ayr.

While it’s generally true that only the best photographs from a shoot will appear before the public, I thought that in the name of transparency it might be a good idea to put out some of my failed shots. Nothing is ever perfect - sometimes things go to plan, but most of the time they don’t. The weather in Ayrshire and in Scotland changes rapidly and sometimes without warning, as does the light required to add that special touch to a composition.

The first image I’ll share in this series is an exposure made upon a headland on the Heads of Ayr, which you can see below.


Conditions;

The air was quite humid with an element of fog which remained unseen until I switched on my headlamp to head back across the fields towards the road. I was shooting from a very exposed headland wherein the wind changed direction inconsistently - both blowing my tripod (which was weighed down) and pushing dense cloud across the sky & obscuring what little stars I could actually see. 

 

Heads of Ayr, Failed

The Image;

That morning, I had purchased a 10-20mm lens, which has an amazingly wide field of view. The main issue I faced with this lens however, was that I had bought a Nikon fit (which I’m adapting to fit my Sony body with a ‘dummy’ adapter). This means that to change aperture, I have to manually set the aperture pin on the base of the lens until I either a) purchase a manual adapter with aperture control or b) purchase an electronic adapter. Having just shot in Dunure, I’d set the lens to f 3.5 - reducing the depth of field & allowing more light to enter the sensor.

A few issues arose in the moment, such as being unable to magnify the stars in order to attain pin sharp focus (I’ve since rectified this issue) and being unable to truly gauge my exposure (+2 stops was equal to -2 stops underexposed) - making up for this with a high ISO which in turn, introduced some colour ‘noise’ - which is anathema to me! With all of this in mind, my image suffered from shake due to the high winds, lack of focus due to my inability to hone in on the stars and high noise due to using a high ISO and boosting the exposure in post production. The result is an image which is both soft and features trailing of the stars.

I do love the juxtaposition of the clear blue night sky against the cloud which is glowing orange due to the light pollution from Dunure/Girvan/Cars - the colour is exactly what I’d hope for. I also like the composition, which has a lofty atmosphere - so it’s not all bad. All in all, I was able to rectify the issues that befell me on the night. I’ll return when the conditions are a bit more favourable for long exposures and get the shot I wanted that night! Without the f*** up’s, I wouldn’t have the skills to ascertain what the issues are. It’s a simple case of trial and error - which will pay off when a shot comes up which requires immediate attention.

Why I Didn't Wait for the Sun to Set at the Summit of Ben A'an

I awake suddenly to the sound of my alarm ringing out in the darkness - it’s 5.30 in the morning and its still pitch black outside, but most importantly the skies are still crystal clear and the ground is still frozen… Coffee time!

Last night during a sudden drop in temperature (to a balmy -5 degrees) I made a snap decision to ascend and to photograph ‘Ben A’an’ the following morning - if the conditions remained as they were. Situated in the Trossachs - a two hour drive from Prestwick - I’d have to leave early if I wanted to reach the summit by sunrise.

Coffee in hand, I defrost the car. I’m fully awake due to the excitement and anticipation and I hit the road, making good progress until I almost come off the road just outside of Callander due to some very thick ice lurking in the darkness. Arriving at the Ben A’an car park in very good time I put my (roasting) new 3-in-1 jacket on, humph my overtly heavy duffel-bag over my shoulders onto my back and put Coops on his lead so that we can cross the road safely. I let him off at the foot of the path and literally hit the ground running. Or so I thought. 

I get approximately 30m up the steep path from the road and suddenly realise to my horror that I can’t breathe; the sudden cold air and the weight of my bag are constricting my lungs. Gasping, with my heart pounding like a pneumatic hammer, I come to an embarrassing halt in order to regulate my breathing - deep breaths; in through the nose and out through the mouth. (Thanks Mr. Wright). The fresh mountain air quickly revives me and I head (slowly) to my next rest stop - a wee bridge connecting the initial path onto the mountain trail. My thighs are burning at this point, my bag feels as though it weighs the same as me and every step upwards fills me with apprehension.

With much effort and a concerted struggle to persist, I reach the halfway point chuckling as I notice that someone had vomited on the man-made two-foot high stone steps. My legs feel as though they are about to give way as the path suddenly becomes much steeper and I look up to see the summit looming what seems to be an aeon away from my position. This does nothing to ease the feeling of plausible defeat in my heart - I see Coops bounding through the trees (full of energy) way up the trail, not for turning back and remember the SAS adage that my Papa was always so keen to relay to me; ‘He Conquers Who Endures’. This provides me with a well-needed kick up the arse and I press on making decent progress against all odds.

As the path curves upwards into the shadow of the peak, it morphs seamlessly from thick man-made steps to rough, extremely slippy, natural crags. Due to its constant shelter from the sun, a thick layer of sheet-ice has settled in nicely, leaving anyone brave enough to continue towards the summit at risk of seriously hurting themselves. I stop to take stock of the situation, then continue my ascent using the fresh snow at the edges of the path to provide the grip that I required. At this point, the summit is about fifty metres away and I catch a second wind (one of the best feelings in the world when climbing). My blood is flowing freely now, my breathing regulated and my muscles warmed up. The rest of the climb is assuredly pleasant and I hit the summit and suddenly lose my breath again…This time, it’s the panoramic visions of splendour hitting my retinas like a six-tonne truck that stop me in my tracks; snow-covered mountains as far as the eye can see, bathed in the golden light of the rising sun; deep emerald woodlands rising up to meet the pure mountain air and the vast expanse of water that is Loch Katrine reflecting the land surrounding it.

I’m filled with a deep sense of joy, of accomplishment and of wonder. There’s literally nothing in this world that could counter the euphoria of such a moment and I smile. Meanwhile, Coops is on the summit - looking at me as if to say ‘is that it!?’… after all, his first ever walk was Cairn Gorm! I scramble up the to the summit absolute to devour my sandwich and to down an ice cold can of red bull in order to restore my spent energy reserves. The conditions are perfect; no wind, no solar haze and most importantly of all; NO RAIN!

 

[NOTE; In landscape photography (especially when a strenuous ascent is involved), well-maintained energy levels are vital to focussing the mind in the field, as without them one may as well just go home empty-handed. I’d already decided that each shot was to be carefully considered, crafted and ‘of its own’, meaning that there'd be no ‘b-shots’ or duds. I wanted each photograph from this adventure to serve as a testament to the natural beauty of the location and to pay homage to my struggles while ascending the summit.]

 

My first image is a composition overlooking Loch Katrine and the Trossachs, with the hills remarkably well-defined summit framing the shot, kissed by the beautiful, golden, morning light. I depress the shutter release and stand back at a loss for words… I know that here and now I’m experiencing a life-affirming moment in time.

Hearing voices behind me as I stand in awe of my own work, I turn my head and see that a large family has joined me on top of the world, spearheaded by a fellow that looks strikingly familiar to the American singer-songwriter Father John Misty. They greet me warmly (having come all the way from Canada) and heap attention onto Coops before settling down onto the rocks to soak in the views and to crack open their collective Thermos. 

I lock-on to another composition, this time featuring the summit-peak in the foreground. I take the shot, outwardly expressing my excitement for the image. The group behind me are now getting ready for a family portrait, standing in front of the sun. I take a moment to suggest that they take position at the spot where I captured my first image as it’d serve as the perfect backdrop for such a picture and happily end up taking the shots for them - putting a massive smile on their faces.

By the time we finish sharing stories, the summit has become a buzzing hive of activity. I count no-less that twenty-four people and three (well insulated) dogs - its amazing to think that such a place (located in and atop the middle of nowhere) can be so busy! Interestingly though, I didn’t see any other photographers! I spend the rest of the daylight hours watching the light and meeting lots of lovely people with interesting stories to tell, from South Africa to Stoke, making my experience all the more rewarding! 

The sun begins to set and I decide to head down from the summit to utilise the last of the golden light on capturing compositions I’d seen on the ascent, as I’d already captured images that I was more than satisfied with. Anything else from today would simply be a bonus! The first of these compositions is threefold - an extremely moody monochromatic shot featuring Loch Achray from the Northern side of the Summit, an abstract shot of the crag covered in icicles set against the clear blue sky and a close up of the heather above the snow - with large icicles hanging off of a single small bush.

My final descent is just as arduous as the ascent - the sheet-ice was making things fairly treacherous in the twilight, and the steep terrain covered in snow obliterated any semblance of a swift descent! Nonetheless, I make decent time and reach the aforementioned mid-way point and take a shot of Ben A’an from the path. It’s a great shot, but the deforested foreground casts a wee bit of a malaise upon my state of euphoria. Just as I reach the bottom of the trail and the end of my adventure I hear two Kestrels calling out through the twilight and stop to enjoy the moment. I tune into my ears and hear the soft warning calls of smaller birds nesting amongst the heather - it fills my mind with wonder.

I get back to the car, taking stock of the days adventure. The feeling of wellbeing is overwhelming - not only did I overcome any semblance of physical or mental stress, but I reached the summit to behold one of the best panoramic vistas that Scotland has to offer - the kind of place that requires no real effort in order to capture its innate natural beauty. I humph my overtly heavy duffel-bag into the boot, gulp down a litre of water and set off homewards through the darkness - avoiding the frozen road which very almost claimed my life this morning.
 

 

I'd like to thank everyone that I met atop Ben A'an for their generosity, stories and encouragement - your company took my already exemplary adventure to a whole new level! Until next time we meet - lang may yir lums reek!


 

'Atop Ben A'an'