Skye: capturing the fresh - an artist's dilemma

My Skye trip had been a challenge, elements aside, in the drive to visit a popular location but to return with something entirely new. Whilst many people have a bucket list and want to create similar images captured by other established photographers, that is the absolute antithesis to how I choose to work myself. 

Of course, some locations are popular for justifiable reasons in that they have an intrinsically beautiful universal aesthetic that demands attention…and how can one not visit such a location when one’s travelled such a great distance and that area is so subject rich? It’s like visiting England from afar for the first time and not venturing into London after all… but it’s about avoiding cliche and laziness I guess. When one sees prior compositions that work, it can be all too easy to carry those image memories in the mind when visiting a spot for the first time. Of course there are so many variables that prevent these shots from being recreated…light, tides etc, but that pictorial memory can be a powerful blinkering mechanism that prevents one exploring the wilder landscape beyond what’s already been admired from the armchair.

Elgol is one of those iconic locations. I’d seen many pictures taken from there and knew it had all the ingredients for some wonderful photography. As I drove down the steep road after rounding the bend at the top, my heart skipped a beat. The anticpation had been phenomenal and I felt as I think a hunter might feel out on the chase…tremendous excitement. As I headed out over the beach and clambered over the boulders keeping an eye on the weather, my eye was on overdrive looking for compositions…and there I saw it…a circular erratic boulder juxtaposed next to a wedge shaped fissured rock with the Cuillin backdrop. It seemed familiar, and unfamiliar at the same time. The tide was out and the composition was wrong…the water needed to be higher. I decided to revisit that spot and moved on to others. I simply felt drawn to it and revisited that spot 4x in total at the exclusion of other places along that coastline. (BTW, I did get a shot I was very happy with indeed, see below). 

On my final visit to Elgol, I bumped into another seasoned photographer who showed me another stretch of the coastline that had I think even more potential than where I’d spent time focussing.

And it was when I got home that I saw a couple of renditions of the boulder and wedge. Very different from my own I might add, but I recognised where the draw may have come from at a subliminal level at least. I had not gone out to look for the scene (and of course had no idea where to search even if I had!). 

Equally of course, as I had been drawn to that composition, other noted photographers had been drawn to it too…because of the fundamental aesthetic I’m certain, and not to copy another’s idea.

On a recent workshop and website review, I was advised by one tutor to remove that particular composition from my portfolio as he felt it invited potentially negative comparison with other exisiting imagery. The other tutor was horrified he’d suggested this as he conversely felt the image was fresh, compelling and ultimately a completely different take from other versions.

It was interesting to see how such an image divided opinion with permissible/impermissible subtle copycatism when this had not been in my mind at all when I created the photograph!

But the inner angst at the time and workshop experience since does make me think about image research before trips and how much to do?…will it affect my ability to respond to the landscape intuitively if my eye has already been filtered through the work of others? Perhaps it’s unsurprising the draw to discover new uncharted terrain, not just from a commercial sense perhaps in delivering new images to the market, but to enable our inner artists to run free reign over what we see before us