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The art of seeing #14: Landscapes as geography, autobiography and metaphor

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)
About Benedict Brain

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)

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.

Recently I led a workshop for the Royal Photographic Society in the wild and wet mountains of Snowdonia. It’s probably my favourite location anywhere on Earth – despite the incessant rain!

The emphasis of the workshop focused on capturing the ‘spirit’ of place. The musings of the great Robert Adams were central to the agenda. Adams suggests that ‘geography’ is the simple, visual record of a location’s topography, the meteorological conditions, the light and so on; that ‘autobiography’ introduces an element of personal expression and how the photographer feels about a place; and that ‘metaphor’ can be used to imply an alternative meaning or message. He goes on to suggest that individually these ideas can be a bit limp, but when all three elements come together, landscape photographs start to become more interesting. It’s a notion that resonates with my own photographic aspirations.

To be honest, this image isn’t a profound epiphany after meditating under a lone tree for hours. I was simply demonstrating in the workshop how slow shutter speed can be used to add (sometimes) interesting intentional camera movement. This can be a way of using the language of photography as an expressive tool.

While reviewing my images at home later, I found that this image hit a chord, and quite possibly all three of Adams’ elements came together – for me. I’ll leave it to you to find your own meanings...

It’s fair to say that my enforced whatever-the-weather policy during the workshop meant we were mostly wet. However, I think it’s also fair to say we all discovered that some of the more interesting images were taken in the worst conditions. So if nothing else, don’t be deterred by bad weather. Wear the right clothing, keep warm and dry, and protect your kit – but make sure you get out there and do it! BB

• Other articles in the Art of Seeing series

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