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.
The magical Italianate village of Portmeirion, nestled on the north Welsh coast, has long held a special allure for me. My father had connections with the architect, and we visited frequently when I was a child.
As a location to photograph, however, I always find it really difficult to capture the sense of place I feel when I’m there. How to see beyond the ‘picture-perfect postcard’ aesthetic is a challenge. More often than not, that sense is also corrupted by the throngs of tourists, who not only disrupt the vibe, but also make photography really hard by their very presence.
A while ago, I happened to be in Portmeirion again, giving a one-to-one training session on the back of a workshop I had run the previous day for The Royal Photographic Society. During the session, I was explaining how I use on-camera flash in my work. I was showing the relationship between foreground and background, and how I use flash power and aperture to control the brightness of the foreground, and aperture and shutter speed to control the brightness of the background.
In the demo, I deliberately over-flashed the statue and made the background as dark as I could, to make a technical point. However, when I saw it on my viewfinder, it instantly made a connection with me and the sense of place I feel at Portmeirion.
I couldn’t really work it out at the time, but I think the image with this over-flashed look takes on a surreal twist, and it is this that resonates with me and how I feel about the place. Perhaps I am a Surrealist sympathiser at heart. Either way, I love this shot, and it captures the essence of Portmeirion for me.
It may feel like a mistake, and it has raised a few eyebrows. I could easily have created a harmonious image, with lovely details in the highlights and shadows, but it is this over-flashed image that I chose to share.
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