Benedict Brain is a UK-based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine, and the author of You Will be Able to Take Great Photos by The End of This Book.
Intense light, blistering heat and the exotic allure of the desert define this image. I was lucky enough to find myself on another dream assignment, speaking about photography on a ship sailing between Istanbul and Dubai. On this day, I found myself in the back of a 4x4 Toyota pickup charging through Wadi Rum, Jordan – a place so staggeringly beautiful and harsh that it’s where Lawrence of Arabia and parts of Star Wars were filmed.
However, as exotic and glamorous as it sounds, it wasn’t without its frustrations. I was on a tour with fellow passengers from the ship, and we were on a rigorous and meticulously timed schedule. It was not a specific photo tour, and while stops were made for picture taking, it was not designed for the kind of in-depth photography I wanted. The stops were short and hurried. Throughout the voyage, I often found myself dumped in a similarly photogenic location, somewhere I could have happily spent hours working, only to be told to be back in 15 minutes.
Of course, it’s better than nothing, but this enforced pace is laced with irony: in most of my workshops, talks, and writings on photography, I emphasize the value of connecting with a place on a deep level to get a feel for the vibe in a mindful and considered way. Not on this trip. Over the three-week assignment, I started to develop a whole new set of skills; quickly assessing, literally in seconds, where to run to get a shot.
The primary focus of this image is the slightly humorous Sunset View sign shot in harsh, contrasty overhead midday light. It also speaks to other themes that underpin my practice, such as our relationship with nature and the environment. However, three shots and I was gone, ushered on with little time to explore.
I’ve come to realise that the art of thinking and working quickly can also be a good skill to hone. I still advocate a slow, meditative approach, but see the value in fast, efficient and spontaneous shooting, too.
• Other articles in the Art of Seeing series